Tim Cook takes swipe at Facebook for creating “social catastrophe”

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook made a not-so-veiled attack on Facebook during a speech Thursday.
  • Cook attacked companies that pursue engagement at all costs and sell user data to advertisers.
  • Apple and Facebook are warring over an iOS privacy update expected in the spring.
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Apple’s privacy war with Facebook is escalating again.

CEO Tim Cook on Thursday launched an attack on business models that prioritize engagement above all and gather user data to target users with advertising.

“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed,” he said in a speech to the European Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference. “Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.”

While he did not mention Facebook by name, it appeared fairly clear he was referring to the social-media company.

“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 engagement — the longer the better — and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible,” Cook said.

“It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t come with a cost — of polarization, of lost trust, and, yes, of violence. A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe,” he added. That comment seemed to allude to the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” which examined social-media companies that monetize users’ attention. The film prompted a response from Facebook, which dismissed it as sensationalist.

The Apple CEO seemed to call on lawmakers to regulate Facebook. “If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise,” he said. “It deserves reform.”

Apple and Facebook have been at loggerheads since August, when Apple announced plans to begin forcing iPhone apps to ask users for consent before tracking them for advertising purposes.

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