Apple CEO links Facebook’s business model to real-world violence

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, speaks at the 2019 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco on November 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Thursday linked Facebook‘s business model using data to serve targeted ads with real-world consequences, such as violence or reducing public trust in vaccines.

Cook’s speech, at a data privacy conference in Brussels, did not mention Facebook by name, but the social media company was clearly a target of the Apple CEO’s warning.

“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves scorn,” Cook said.

Cook also criticized recommendation algorithms that suggest extremist groups to users, as Facebook has been under fire for doing. On Wednesday, Facebook said it would stop automatically recommending political groups permanently.

Cook also said that he believes that some companies reward content that could undermine public trust in vaccinations to boost engagement.

“At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good and the longer the better,” Cook said.

The speech comes as the battle between the Silicon Valley rivals heats up, particularly about a new iPhone feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT), which will force apps to ask for user permission to access an important device identifier that’s used by companies like Facebook and Google to serve and measure mobile ads.

Cook’s comments come after January’s pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill raised questions about whether Facebook’s algorithms and tools were used to supercharge the unrest. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was already forced to defend the company, saying that rioters who were planning violence were “largely” not organized on Facebook.

“It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t cover the costs of polarization, of lost trust, of violence,” Cook said. “A social dilemma cannot be allowed to cause a social catastrophe.”

On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg slammed the ATT change, and said that Apple was its biggest competitor. He also implied that Apple is using privacy as a justification to disadvantage Facebook.

“Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own,” Zuckerberg said.

Apple told CNBC on Wednesday that the next beta version of its iPhone operating system will start to enforce ATT, which means that the change will go into effect for everyone soon — Apple says it will happen in “early spring.”


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