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Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Privacy Is A Fundamental Human Right'

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Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Privacy Is A Fundamental Human Right'

Privacy & Security

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Privacy Is A Fundamental Human Right'

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Privacy Is A Fundamental Human Right'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/445026470/445048762" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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"We don't collect a lot of your data and understand every detail about your life. That's just not the business that we are in," says Apple CEO Tim Cook, shown here at the NPR offices in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Ariel Zambelich/NPR hide caption

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Ariel Zambelich/NPR

"We don't collect a lot of your data and understand every detail about your life. That's just not the business that we are in," says Apple CEO Tim Cook, shown here at the NPR offices in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR

Apple has long touted the power and design of its devices, but recently the world's most valuable company has been emphasizing another feature: privacy. That's no small matter when many users store important private data on those devices: account numbers, personal messages, photos.

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks to NPR's Robert Siegel about how the company protects its customers' data, and how it uses — or doesn't use — that information.


Interview Highlights

On government requests for customer text messages

The government comes to us from time to time, and if they ask in a way that is correct, and has been through the courts as is required, then to the degree that we have information, we give that information.

However, we design our products in such a way that privacy is designed into the product. And security is designed in. And so if you think about it ... some of our most personal data is on the phone: our financial data, our health information, our conversations with our friends and family and co-workers. And so instead of us taking that data into Apple, we've kept data on the phone and it's encrypted by you. You control it.

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On national security, encryption and calls for a "back door"

National security always matters, obviously. But the reality is that if you have an open door in your software for the good guys, the bad guys get in there, too. Think about what happened in [Washington, D.C.] with ... literally tens of millions of employees of the government getting their data stolen. And so we think that our customers want us to help them keep their data safe. ...

I don't think you will hear the [National Security Agency] asking for a back door. ... There have been different conversations with the FBI, I think, over time. ... But my own view is everyone's coming around to some core tenets. And those core tenets are that encryption is a must in today's world.

And I think everybody's coming around also to recognizing that any back door means a back door for bad guys as well as good guys. And so a back door is a nonstarter. It means we are all not safe. ... I don't support a back door for any government, ever.

On Apple's recent emphasis on customer privacy

We do think that people want us to help them keep their lives private. We see that privacy is a fundamental human right that people have. We are going to do everything that we can to help maintain that trust. ...

Our view on this comes from a values point of view, not from a commercial interest point of view. Our values are that we do think that people have a right to privacy. And that our customers are not our products. We don't collect a lot of your data and understand every detail about your life. That's just not the business that we are in.

On how customer purchasing history is used

Let me be clear. If you buy something from the App Store, we do know what you bought from the App Store, obviously. We think customers are fine with that. Many customers want us to recommend an app.

But what they don't want to do, they don't want your email to be read, and then to pick up on keywords in your email and then to use that information to then market you things on a different application that you're using. ...

If you're in our News app, and you're reading something, we don't think that in the News app that we should know what you did with us on the Music app — not to trade information from app to app to app to app.