The chief executive officer of Apple, Tim Cook, warned that the trade in digital data has exploded into a “data industrial complex” and that background data brokers profit from privacy-hostile business models. He said personal information is being weaponized against people and societies.

“Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” Cook said, as reported by TechCrunch. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold.”

Cook and Apple have long sought to position themselves as being on the side of user privacy. The company opposed efforts by the FBI to require it to unlock an encrypted iPhone in 2016.

Cook said Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation was an example for how to hold companies accountable for protecting their customers’ data.

“It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow suit,” Cook said.

Cook has previously called privacy a “fundamental human right.”

Though he did not name Facebook and Google, he referred to the Silicon Valley giants throughout his remarks.

Cook has said Facebook should have self-regulated, but said, “I think we’re beyond that here.”

He said U.S. policymakers should prioritize data minimization, transparency, access rights, and security, arguing U.S. customers should have the right to always know what’s being collected and should be able easily to correct and delete personal data.

“For artificial intelligence to be truly smart it must respect human values — including privacy,” Cook added. “If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound. We can achieve both great artificial intelligence and great privacy standards. It is not only a possibility — it is a responsibility.”

Cook made his remarks during the keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels.

Photo: Getty Images

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