In what has been described as a "blistering" attack, Apple CEO Tim Cook lashed out against government spying and the "gobbling up" of information by Silicon Valley rivals Facebook and Google during an award ceremony on Monday evening.
"I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information," Cook said in a remote address before Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) 'Champions of Freedom' event in Washington, D.C.
Cook was being honored for 'corporate leadership' by the civil liberties group. Of certain tech companies, Cook said "they’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong."
"We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy," he added. "The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it."
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As TechCrunch reports, though not thinly veiled, the comments were directed at companies "like Facebook and Google, which rely on advertising to users based on the data they collect from them for a portion, if not a majority, of their income."
Cook also took aim at the U.S. government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, which has been pushing for so-called backdoor access, or a 'master key,' that would allow government agencies to access consumer devices regardless of their privacy protections.
"There’s another attack on our civil liberties that we see heating up every day—it’s the battle over encryption. Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data," said Cook. "We think this is incredibly dangerous."
Cook continued: "Removing encryption tools from our products altogether, as some in Washington would like us to do, would only hurt law-abiding citizens who rely on us to protect their data. The bad guys will still encrypt; it’s easy to do and readily available."
Though Cook admitted his company does work to some extent with government agencies, he added that that the attack on encryption tools "undermines our country's founding principles."
"Now, we have a deep respect for law enforcement, and we work together with them in many areas, but on this issue we disagree," he said. "So let me be crystal clear—weakening encryption, or taking it away, harms good people that are using it for the right reasons. And ultimately, I believe it has a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights and undermines our country’s founding principles."
However, as Guardian reporter Stuart Dredge notes, on some of these points, "Apple is not immune from scrutiny" given that "its App Store distributes the apps of these companies to the iOS devices bought by its customers."
Further, there is a clear economic motive for the critique. "Portraying rivals as building their business models on privacy intrusion—Google and its Android platform in particular—has a clear commercial benefit for Apple, as it tries to sell more of its iOS devices," Dredge writes.
The comments are not the first levied by Cook against his competitors. Last year, he sent an open letter to customers decrying "free" online services where users "are not the customer," they are "the product."