Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t name names when he spoke out against the privacy practices of big tech companies during a keynote speech in Brussels last month. But he didn’t have to.
“We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them,” Cook said in the October 24 speech. “This should make us very uncomfortable. It should unsettle us.”
Those comments were primarily directed at Facebook and Google, the two biggest tech companies that make most of their money from advertising based on user data. Both of those companies have battled a public reckoning over their user privacy practices over the last few years, and that reckoning is far from over.
But that hasn’t stopped Apple from working with the companies it disagrees with. Facebook and Google’s apps are available in Apple’s App Store, for example, and Apple accepts billions of dollars a year from Google so Google can be the default search engine in the Safari web browser.
In an interview with Axios on HBO Sunday night, Axios technology correspondent Ina Fried asked Cook why Apple accepts payments from Google to be the default search engine in Apple products, even though Google’s attitude towards privacy runs counter to Apple’s.
“I think their search engine is the best,” Cook said, adding that Apple has added controls to the Safari browser to keep companies like Google from tracking your browsing history to collect data about you.
“Look at what we’ve done with the controls we’ve built in,” Cook said. “We have private web browsing. We have an intelligent tracker prevention. What we’ve tried to do is come up with ways to help our users through their course of the day.”
“It’s not a perfect thing. I’d be the very first person to say that. But it goes a long way to helping,” he added.
That’s the irony of Apple. The company has touted the right to its users’ privacy for years, but the gadgets it makes are also the platform other companies use to suck up personal data and commit the very “surveillance” Cook spoke out against last month.
As Google, Facebook and others grapple with the public’s backlash over privacy, Apple will be forced to think of new ways to mitigate those companies’ effects on its own users.