June 4, 2018 — In an interview airing tomorrow on Morning Edition, NPR's Steve Inskeep and Laura Sydell spoke with Apple CEO Tim Cook on the opening day of the company's annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC).
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In response to a New York Times report about Facebook having made data-sharing agreements with other software and hardware companies in the past, Cook denied that Apple ever accessed or asked for Facebook user information that was shared without users' explicit knowledge. "The things mentioned in the Times article about relationship status, all these kinds of things, is so foreign to us, and not data that we have ever received at all or requested — zero."
He went on to clarify that what Apple did do with Facebook involved making the photo-sharing experience easier for Facebook users on iOs devices: "We integrated the ability to share in the operating system, [made] it simple to share a photo and that sort of thing," said Cook. "So it's a convenience for the user. We weren't in the data business. We've never been in the data business."
A highlight from Cook's announcement in his keynote address included new and stronger features coming in iOS 12 to help users combat smartphone addiction and constant device distractions. When asked how that squares with Apple simultaneously rolling out features designed to integrate its devices more fully into people's daily activities, he said: "We have never been about maximizing the number of times you pick it up, the number of times you use it."
He added: "All of these things are great conveniences of life. They change your daily life in a great way. But if you're being bombarded by notifications all day long, that's probably a use of the system that might not be so good anymore."
Cook declined to share specifics of his private meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House that took place in April, but suggested he supports a less hawkish policy on trade and doesn't agree with tariffs: "Trade brings people closer together. If I can do some business with you, I'm going to find out some things about you and we're going to get along a lot better, and I think that's true about countries as well," Cook said. He added: "I don't think that Apple is going to get caught up in a tariff there, but I don't know. This could, but I don't think so, because if we were, it would hurt the U.S. And so it doesn't make sense to do from that point of view."
Cook also addressed Apple's move to comply with Chinese law and store its physical iCloud data for Chinese citizens and cryptographic keys on servers located in China. When asked about concerns that doing so could make user data easier for the Chinese government to access, Cook said: "It doesn't really matter where they're kept, it matters whether they're safe or not." He also said the only government, at this point, that's tried to force Apple to release encrypted user data is the United States, referring to the case of the FBI suing Apple to unlock an iPhone belonging to a shooter in the 2015 San Bernardino attack. "To everyone else's credit, no one else has asked for a backdoor [into a user's encrypted iPhone information]. No one in the world at this point. I'm not saying I want change tomorrow."
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