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Tim Cook says data collection costs ‘human freedom’ in new Facebook rebuke

Apple CEO Tim Cook has seemingly escalated the war of words with Facebook over the two Silicon Valley giants’ respective attitudes to user data privacy.

In a keynote address at an EU data protection conference, the iPhone maker issued his strongest condemnation yet of social media companies’ data collection and knock-on advertising practices, claiming they impinge upon “human freedom,” itself.

Speaking at the Computer Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) conference in Brussels, Cook called on governments to persue legal reforms, in order to regulate the companies whose business models rely on data exploitation.

He later condemned the use of algorithms that direct users towards the extremism and disinformation, that are currently fanning the flames of division in the United States and beyond.

He said: “As I’ve said before, if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, we lose so much more than data, we lose the freedom to be human. And yet, this is a hopeful new season, a time of thoughtfulness and reform.”

He added: “Together, we must send a universal, humanistic response to those who claim a right to users’ private information about what should not and will not be tolerated.”

In his strongest comments on the matter yet, albeit without mentioning Facebook by name, Cook said: “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.”

During the CPDP conference, Cook also called out social media’s role in the rampant spread of disinformation and algorithms that point users towards extremist groups, which he says has resulted in real-world violence and loss of trust in factual information.

“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,” he said.

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

Apple and Facebook have been at loggerheads since the former introduced so-called “nutrition labels” on App Store listings to ensure iPhone and iPad users know what data they are providing to apps like Facebook. Apple is also providing pop-up notifications to give users the option to opt out of tracking.

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