Apple chief executive Tim Cook spoke at Duke University’s commencement ceremony yesterday. While he offered students some typically utopian-sounding Silicon Valley advice, Cook had less kind words for fellow tech giants treading on data privacy.
“We reject the excuse that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy,” said Cook, who earned his MBA at the Durham, North Carolina institution. “So we choose a different path, collecting as little of your data as possible, being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care because we know it belongs to you.”
Most experts agree that Cook’s comments are a direct attack on Facebook, whose recent slew of privacy scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica affair, have drawn bipartisan ire, and have put its leader Mark Zuckerberg on the back foot.
Cook added that Apple, which has faced criticism over stashing enormous wealth in foreign “tax havens”, could make “a ton of money” if it chose to make customers its product. “We’ve elected not to do that.”
Yet those words conceal a more business-minded approach by Apple, which sells proprietary technology rather than the cheaper, data-incorporated products favored by competitors including Amazon. Attacking the industry on data is a way for Cook to frame Apple’s model as a moral, rather than economic, imperative.
Elsewhere in the ten-minute address Cook praised popular movements such as #MeToo, the Parkland students’ gun control protests and people who “fight for the rights of immigrants.”
There was plenty of inspiration for Duke’s latest graduates, too. Drawing on inspiration from late former Apple chief Steve Jobs, whom Cook characterized as “someone who knew that changing the world started with following a vision, not a path,” he said that, “if you hope to change the world, you must find your fearlessness.
“Fearlessness means taking the first step even if you’re not sure where it will take you.”