Apple CEO Tim Cook Throws Barbs At Facebook And Google In Privacy Letter

“Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of all our hardware, software, and services,” he writes.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Throws Barbs At Facebook And Google In Privacy Letter
[Photo: Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns]

Earlier this week, Tim Cook appeared on the Charlie Rose show to promote Apple’s new products and assuage concerns that the company isn’t doing enough to protect user privacy. The CEO emphasized that Apple, unlike Google and Facebook, doesn’t rely on advertising and data for profits; the company sells hardware and software.


Now he’s doubling down. In an open letter published by Apple Wednesday evening, Cook reiterated his stance and attempted to clarify where the Cupertino-based company stands with regard to security measures like two-factor authentication. “At Apple, your trust means everything to us,” he writes. “Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of all our hardware, software, and services, including iCloud and new services like Apple Pay. And we continue to make improvements.”

There are two paragraphs, however, that stand out:

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

Though he doesn’t mention them by name, Cook is taking explicit aim at Facebook and Google here, respectively. It’s a savvy and understated offensive that strikes me as classically Apple.

Here’s the thing, though: It isn’t Facebook or Google who are culpable here; it’s Apple. It wasn’t Facebook or Google’s lax security standards that allowed dozens of intimate photos assumed to be tucked away safely in the iPhones of famous women to be leaked onto the Internet. It wasn’t Facebook or Google that made two-factor authentication an enormous, convoluted headache to turn on in the first place; in fact, both companies make such a security standard quite easy. And it wasn’t Facebook or Google whose systems failed to flag basic brute force algorithms that were (likely) being used to crack customer logins to their iCloud backups until it was too late.

And privacy will be important to Apple going forward, especially as it enters lucrative new markets like NFC payments. In order to succeed, users will have to place significant faith in Apple’s phones and watches, and trust that they are competent enough to handle their credit cards and bank accounts as they navigate through the real world.

“We know that your trust doesn’t come easy,” writes Cook. “That’s why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.” Indeed, there is still plenty of work to do.


About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.