Edward Snowden says we should support Apple’s newly emphasized commitment to privacy rather than a business model driven by personal data collection, whether or not Tim Cook is being genuine. Snowden spoke over video conference during the Challenge.rs conference in Barcelona today.
I asked Snowden his thoughts on Cook’s recent acceptance speech for an Electronic Privacy Information Center award, saying:
“CEO Tim Cook recently took a stand on privacy and Apple’s business, saying “some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Do you think Cook’s perspective genuine and honest, and how do you think it will play out long-term with regards to it hurting or helping Apple’s business, or whether Apple will keep this promise to privacy?”
“I think in the current situation, it doesn’t matter if he’s being honest or dishonest. What really matters is that he’s obviously got a commercial incentive to differentiate himself from competitors like Google. But if he does that, if he directs Apple’s business model to be different, to say “we’re not in the business of collecting and selling information. We’re in the business of creating and selling devices that are superior”, then that’s a good thing for privacy. That’s a good thing for customers.
And we should support vendors who are willing to innovate. Who are willing to take positions like that, and go “You know, just because it’s popular to collect everybody’s information and resell it..to advertisers and whatever, it’s going to serve our reputation, it’s going to serve our relationship with our customers, and it’s going to serve society better. If instead we just align ourselves with our customers and what they really want, if we can outcompete people on the value of our products without needing to subsidize that by information that we’ve basically stolen from our customers, that’s absolutely something that should be supported. And regardless of whether it’s honest or dishonest, for the moment, now, that’s something we should support, that’s something we should incentivize, and it’s actually something we should emulate.
And if that position comes to be reversed in the future, I think that should be a much bigger hammer that comes against Apple because then that’s a betrayal of trust, that’s a betrayal of a promise to its customers. But I would like to think that based on the leadership that Tim Cook has shown on this position so far, he’s spoken very passionately about private issues, that we’re going to see that continue and he’ll keep those promises.
It’s reasonable to wonder how much of Cook’s chest-beating on privacy is philosophy and how much is marketing. Since the iCloud celebrity photo hack last year, we’ve written about how Apple needs to be more transparent about security and privacy. Snowden seems to agree it could benefit the company as well as society.
Apple’s steps in that direction through press releases and public appearances by Cook have been positively received. They resonate especially well with the public in contrast to other tech giants like Google and Facebook that are aggressively collecting private personal data, and the widespread security breaches of big brands.
Yet while people frequently say privacy is important to them, their unwillingness to stray from products that rely on mining their data seems to suggest otherwise. We’re just at the start of the age of personalized computing, and those that embrace it may get an advantage in the market.
Apple is experimenting with ways to personalize with privacy in mind. Its new Proactive update to Siri scans your email to remind you about events, but only does this on your device rather than copying your data to its servers for processing. To keep up while remaining true to its ideals, Apple will need more creative solutions like this to deliver convenience without being creepy.