Apple CEO Pushes Back On Consumers’ Privacy Fears: ‘You’re Not Our Product’

Apple CEO Tim Cook presents Apple Pay at the company’s product launch Sept. 9, 2014. CREDIT: AP

Following a controversial data breach of its iCloud service, Apple CEO Tim Cook deflected criticism and defended the company’s commitment to privacy and security. In the final installment of a two-part interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose Monday, Cook chided the U.S. government — and Google — for collecting too much information on everyday citizens.

“I think it’s a tough balance…And I don’t think that the country or the government’s found the right balance,” Cook said. “I think they erred too much on the collect-everything side.”

Cook also tried to differentiate Apple from companies such as Google, which voraciously collect consumer data for profit. “We run a very different company,” Cook said. “I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money. And if they’re making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried.” The more data companies collect, the more reason the government has to tap tech companies for consumer information, Cook reasoned.

Cook went on to say that Apple doesn’t keep gobs of consumer data because “you’re not our product.” Apple maintains that it can’t access iMessage and FaceTime data because it’s encrypted. So even if the government asked for the data, Apple couldn’t provide it, Cook said.

Apple has been heavily criticized after hackers stole and leaked several celebrities’ nude photos stored on iCloud, Apple’s data storage system, earlier this month. The tech company has since vowed to strengthen security even though the iCloud breach affected select celebrity accounts and wasn’t due to a security lapse.

The celebrity photo scandal was soon followed by Apple’s unveiling its mobile payment system Apple Pay and enhanced health data collection app for its new smartwatch, reviving a broader conversation surrounding consumer privacy. Ahead of Cook’s interview Monday, PayPal criticized Apple Pay by taking out a full page ad in the New York Times, alluding to the recent photo hack, “We the people want our money safer than our selfies. PayPal, protecting the people economy.”

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen also expressed concerns regarding Apple’s privacy and data collection practices for its new Apple Watch. Jepsen requested face time with Cook to discuss how the company plans to protect consumer data saying, “When new technologies emerge in consumer markets they inevitably lead to new questions, including questions about privacy.” And because “personal information will no doubt be collected and stored in some way, questions remain, and I look forward to the opportunity to have a discussion with Apple,” Jepsen said.

Scrutiny of Apple’s privacy and data collection practices could intensify as Apple Pay and Apple Watch hit consumers over the next year. Apple Pay is expected to debut on the iPhone 6 in October and has already garnered attention from financial regulators. Apple Pay allows consumers to pay for items using near field communication, a wireless technology that transmits payment information from the mobile device to a store’s checkout system.

But while the transaction removes the need for a physical credit card, mobile payments are subject to the same regulations as traditional ones, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau told The Hill. Mobile payments have been around for years with companies such as Starbucks and Verizon, but Apple’s foray into the area could spark a seismic industry shift with thousands of retailers clamoring to accept Apple Pay. That sudden change in industry behavior worries and regulators, The Hill reported, and could ultimately spell stricter regulations and tighter federally mandated privacy controls for Apple.