"This is Surveillance" - Apple's Tim Cook Calls for GDPR-Style Regulation Worldwide

Apple CEO Tim Cook took an impassioned stance on the state of data last week, launching a no-holds-barred attack on the unregulated use of personal information by large organisations and even governments.

During his keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), Cook called for technology’s leading players to recognise the immense power of data and use it responsibly, putting privacy before profits.

“We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right. But we also recognise that not everyone sees it like that,” he said, in a not-so-subtle dig at fellow tech giants like Google and Facebook, who have recently been hauled up on data misuse.

“Our data is being weaponised against us with military efficiency,” he said. “Taken to its extreme… this process lets companies know you better than you may know yourself.”

He also touched on the dangers of preference-based targeting, and the use of data in creating “narrowed world views” that fuel conflict. “We shouldn’t sugar-coat the consequences. This is surveillance.”

Cook set out a clear vision for best-practice data use, including access, consent, security and full knowledge on the part of the data owner. “Companies should recognise that data belongs to users,” he said, highlighting that instead of quietly collecting up “stockpiles of personal data,” companies must “…empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything else is a sham.”

Unsurprisingly, Cook is a firm fan of the GDPR, citing it as an example of how “good policy and political will can come together to protect the rights of everyone.”

He sees the legislation as the start of a change in how society sees data, and is hopeful that smart, ethical data use can pave the way for technological progress in the field of AI and beyond.

So what does this mean for us as marketers, and indeed the marketing industry as a whole? In the short term maybe not a whole lot, but at the end of the day marketing is very much a data driven art form – data that is often obtained from consumers. Restrictions – particularly those of a draconian nature - placed on data collection could have far reaching and non-trivial consequences for brands and how they communicate with audiences.

On the flip side however, failing to implement these restrictions could mean brands continue to lose the trust of the very consumers they are trying to reach. Championing privacy over all else could indeed be the way to rebuild this trust and more fruitful consumer/brand relationships.

Time will tell exactly what kind of impact Cook’s words will have, and it may be years before we realise the true reach of this sentiment, but at the very least it’s worth examining what an interesting – and indeed formative – time this is. It can only pay to be at least periodically conscious of this ever-changing space.