Business Technology

Saturday 20 July 2019

Apple calls for new privacy laws to combat 'shadowy' data brokers

Apple chief executive Tim Cook
Apple chief executive Tim Cook
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has called for a new privacy law in the US, claiming that “shadowy” data brokers are eroding people’s trust in technology.

The longstanding Apple boss wants US authorities to move closer to a European level of data privacy and to "shine a light on actors trafficking in your data behind the scenes".

Apple has begun taking a harder line on the issue of privacy over the last two years, seeking to distance itself from companies such as Facebook and Google, which Cook has previously criticised for building "detailed profiles of people".

"Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives," Cook will say in an article for Time today.

"That’s why I and others are calling on the US Congress to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation, a landmark package of reforms that protect and empower the consumer."

Cook took particular aim at so-called 'data brokers', which hoover up personal information about people and create profiles that become difficult to parse, expunge or correct.

"One of the biggest challenges in protecting privacy is that many of the violations are invisible," Cook said.

"For example, you might have bought a product from an online retailer, something most of us have done. But what the retailer doesn’t tell you is that it then turned around and sold or transferred information about your purchase to a "data broker", a company that exists purely to collect your information, package it and sell it to yet another buyer.

"The trail disappears before you even know there is a trail. Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked, out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers.

"We think every user should have the chance to say, 'wait a minute, that’s my information that you’re selling and I didn’t consent'."

It’s not the first time that Cook has criticised the online business model of free services that monetise personal data.

And it comes as data brokers have begun to attract greater scrutiny in Europe rolling the introduction of the GDPR privacy law, with some hosting databases containing billions of personal data transactions that fall largely outside the vision of the people attached to the personal data.

Cook’s move comes as the Irish Data Protection Commissioner pursues 16 separate data privacy investigations into multinational firms based in Ireland. At least two of these relate to Facebook, according to a spokesman for the DPC.

"The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetised our customer if our customer was our product," Cook said in a recent interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher. "We’ve elected not to do that."

Cook said that citizens should have the right "to have personal data minimised", the rightto know "what data is being collected and why", to data access and to proper data security.

"Meaningful, comprehensive federal privacy legislation should not only aim to put consumers in control of their data, it should also shine a light on actors trafficking in your data behind the scenes," he said.

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