‘This should make us very uncomfortable’: Tim Cook’s warning about data-industrial complex. PHOTO: Damien meyer
‘This should make us very uncomfortable’: Tim Cook’s warning about data-industrial complex. PHOTO: Damien meyer

Apple CEO’s dire tech warning

APPLE chief executive Tim Cook has warned consumers they are being targeted with "military precision" by big tech firms.

Speaking at an international conference on data privacy, he warned that modern technology has led to the creation of a "data-industrial complex" in which private and everyday information is "weaponised against us with military efficiency."

During the animated speech, the Apple boss applauded European Union authorities for bringing in a strict new data privacy law in May called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which gives European users greater protection and more control over their personal information that is collected by companies.

The new rules require companies to justify the collection and use of personal data gleaned from phones, apps and visited websites. They must also give EU users the ability to access and delete data, and to object to data use.

Consumers in the US and Australia don't have such rights over the data they help generate but Mr Cook said he hoped similar policies would be adopted around the world.

"In many jurisdictions, regulators are asking tough questions. It is time for rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead," he said to applause from hundreds of privacy officials from more than 70 countries who attended the event in Brussels.

Unlike its major tech rivals such as Google, Facebook and Amazon who are heavily dependent on constantly data mining their users to target them with ads, customer data isn't nearly as fundamental to Apple's business model.

It can tout user privacy and promise not to hoover up endless customer data while looking like the good guys. For the most part, it makes money from selling phones and laptops, not ads. So while it's a self serving message from Tim Cook, it's nonetheless true.

Mr Cook warned that technology's promise to drive breakthroughs that benefit humanity is at risk of being overshadowed by the harm it can cause by deepening division and spreading false information.

Scraps of personal data are collected for digital profiles that let businesses know users better than they know themselves and allow companies to offer users "increasingly extreme content" that hardens their convictions, he said.

"This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them," he said. "This should make us very uncomfortable. It should unsettle us."

Apple CEO Tim Cook    . Picture: Virginia Mayo
Apple CEO Tim Cook . Picture: Virginia Mayo

The speech, along with video comments from Google and Facebook's top bosses, in the European Union's home base in Brussels, underscores how the US tech giants are jostling to curry favour in the region as regulators tighten their scrutiny.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of just how much they're giving up by using their favourite online services and devices.

In an recent interview with news.com.au, Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised the issue, calling out tech firms for profiting at their customers' expense.

"For too long, large companies have been able to hoover up data and profit off it, without paying a royalty to the people they got it off," he said. "In the digital economy, your data has value, and you should be able to get the benefits of your data, should you wish to use it in that way."

Apple recently updated its website to include an easier way for Australian customers to make changes to the data the company collects about them, suspend their Apple account or even permanently delete their data.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google head Sundar Pichai sent brief video remarks to the annual meeting of global data privacy chiefs.

Mr Zuckerberg said the social network takes seriously its "basic ethical responsibility" to safeguard personal information but added that "the past year has shown we have a lot more work to do," referring to a big data breach and the scandal over the misuse of data by third parties.

They both said they supported regulation, with Mr Pichai noting Google recently proposed a legislative framework that would build on GDPR and extend many of its principles to users globally.