While Apple’s latest quarterly earnings report has undoubtedly alleviated some of the pressure facing CEO Tim Cook as more analysts begin to question the company’s decision to bank on a $1,000 smart phone, Steve Jobs’ anointed successor hasn’t entirely abandoned the art of deflection.
Indeed, Cook pulled off an almost Muskian deflection over the weekend when he delivered an oblique jab at his two biggest Silicon Valley rivals – Facebook and Google – over lingering concerns about data privacy practices among American tech firms.
During a commencement speech at his alma mater, Duke University, Cook warned a crowd of wide-eyed graduates about a potential pitfall that isn’t part of the tried-and-true commencement speech formula: The importance of protecting user data from those who might exploit it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Cook’s speech wasn’t chock-full of the usual Silicon Valley virtue signaling. Cook applauded the Parkland students and the #MeToo movement for challenging the status quo – that most Valleyesque of virtues – and urged graduates to follow their example during a speech that was stuffed with platitudes about embracing uncertainty, being “fearless” and the importance of overcoming inertia to change the world for the better. It also featured at least one choice JFK quote.
But it was his remarks about Apple’s efforts to ethically steward sensitive data belonging to its customers that drew the most attention.
“We reject the notion that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy, so we choose a different path: collecting as little of your data as possible, and being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care. Because we know it belongs to you,” Cook said in his address at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Cook was one of the first tech executives to disparage Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data-privacy scandal. When asked by Recode’s Kara Swisher how he’d handle this type of a controversy at Apple, Cook replied that he “wouldn’t be in this situation.” He has also famously referred to data privacy as a human right.
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