Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a speech to Stanford graduates this weekend. In addition to the usual motivational stuff, he attacked other big tech companies in a not-so-subtle way. He painted a stark picture of Silicon Valley, saying it’s responsible for too many mistakes.
“Today we gather at a moment that demands some reflections. Fueled by caffeine and code, optimism and idealism, conviction and creativity, generations of Stanford graduates and dropouts have used technology to remake our society,” Cook said.
“But I think you would agree that lately the results haven’t been neat or straightforward. In just the four years that you’ve been here, things feel like they’ve taken a sharp turn. Crisis has tempered optimism. Consequences have challenged idealism. And reality has shaken blind faith.”
In order to counterbalance that statement, Cook named a few great inventions that were born in Silicon Valley, from Hewlett Packard’s oscillator to the iPhone, social media, shareable videos and Snapchat stories — YouTube and Facebook weren’t named directly.
“But lately it seems this industry is becoming better known for a less noble innovation — the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility. We see it every day now with every data breach, every privacy violation, every blind eye turned to hate speech, fake news poisoning our national conversation, the false miracles in exchange for a single drop of your blood,” he continued.
“It feels a bit crazy that anyone has to say this, but if you built a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos. Taking responsibility means having the courage to think things through,” he added later.
Cook then focused on privacy, a topic that is dear to his heart. “If we accept as normal and unavoidable that anything in our lives can be aggregated, sold or even leaked in the event of a hack, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human,” he said. “The chilling effect of digital surveillance is profound and it touches everything.”
Sure, it’s easier to say that as the CEO of Apple. The company still generates the vast majority of its revenue from hardware. And Apple can be criticized for many business practices as well. But it’s hard to disagree with Cook on this topic.