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Apple CEO Sides With The Need For Tougher Privacy Laws

Google, meanwhile, shut down its Plus social network this month after revealing it had a flaw that could have exposed personal information of up to half a million people.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during a data privacy conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. VOA
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The head of Apple on Wednesday endorsed tough privacy laws for both Europe and the U.S. and renewed the technology giant’s commitment to protecting personal data, which he warned was being “weaponized” against users.

Speaking at an international conference on data privacy, Apple CEO Tim Cook applauded European Union authorities for bringing in a strict new data privacy law this year and said the iPhone maker supports a U.S. federal privacy law.

Cook’s remarks, along with comments due later from Google and Facebook top bosses, in the European Union’s home base in Brussels, underscore how the U.S. tech giants are jostling to curry favor in the region as regulators tighten their scrutiny.

Data protection has become a major political issue worldwide, and European regulators have led the charge in setting new rules for the big internet companies. The EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, requires companies to change the way they do business in the region, and a number of headline-grabbing data breaches have raised public awareness of the issue.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook, Wikimedia

“In many jurisdictions, regulators are asking tough questions. It is time for rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead,” Cook said.

“We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States,” he said, to applause from hundreds of privacy officials from more than 70 countries.

In the U.S., California is moving to put in regulations similar to the EU’s strict rules by 2020 and other states are mulling more aggressive laws. That’s rattled the big tech companies, which are pushing for a federal law that would treat them more leniently.

Cook warned that technology’s promise to drive breakthroughs that benefit humanity is at risk of being overshadowed by the harm it can cause by deepening division and spreading false information. He said the trade in personal information “has exploded into a data industrial complex.”

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An empty chair reserved for Google’s parent Alphabet, which refused to send its top executive, is seen as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg accompanied by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on ‘Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms’ on Capitol Hill. VOA

“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” he said. Scraps of personal data are collected for digital profiles that let businesses know users better than they know themselves and allow companies to offer users increasingly extreme content that hardens their convictions,” Cook said.

“This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich only the companies that collect them,” he said.

Cook’s appearance seems set to one-up his tech rivals and show off his company’s credentials in data privacy, which has become a weak point for both Facebook and Google.

“With the spotlight shining as directly as it is, Apple have the opportunity to show that they are the leading player and they are taking up the mantle,” said Ben Robson, a lawyer at Oury Clark specializing in data privacy. Cook’s appearance “is going to have good currency,” with officials, he added.

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, left, accompanied by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey are sworn in before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on ‘Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms’ on Capitol Hill. VOA

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google head Sundar Pichai were scheduled to address by video the annual meeting of global data privacy chiefs. Only Cook attended in person.

He has repeatedly said privacy is a “fundamental human right” and vowed his company wouldn’t sell ads based on customer data the way companies like Facebook do.

His speech comes a week after the iPhone maker unveiled expanded privacy protection measures for people in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, including allowing them to download all personal data held by Apple. European users already had access to this feature after GDPR took effect in May. Apple plans to expand it worldwide.

The International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, held in a different city every year, normally attracts little attention but its Brussels venue this year takes on symbolic meaning as EU officials ratchet up their tech regulation efforts.

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, seen in this Nov. 3, 2015, file photo, will answer questions about cybersecurity before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. VOA

The 28-nation EU took on global leadership of the issue when it beefed up data privacy regulations by launching GDPR. The new rules require companies to justify the collection and use of personal data gleaned from phones, apps and visited websites. They must also give EU users the ability to access and delete data, and to object to data use.

GDPR also allows for big fines benchmarked to revenue, which for big tech companies could amount to billions of dollars.

Also Read: EU Expresses Concern Over Facebook Losing Data

In the first big test of the new rules, Ireland’s data protection commission, which is a lead authority for Europe as many big tech firms are based in the country, is investigating Facebook after a data breach let hackers access 3 million EU accounts.

Google, meanwhile, shut down its Plus social network this month after revealing it had a flaw that could have exposed personal information of up to half a million people. (VOA)

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Facebook Investors Increase Pressure on CEO Mark Zuckerberg To Step Down

Facebook has also refuted allegation that it knew about Russian activity as early as the spring of 2016 but was slow to investigate it at every turn

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Facebook investors want Mark Zuckerberg to resign: Report. Pixabay

Facebook investors have increased pressure on Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to step down after a New York Times investigation suggested that the social network hired a Republican-owned political consulting and PR firm that “dug up dirt on its competitors”.

According to a report in The Guardian on Saturday, Jonas Kron, Senior Vice President at Trillium Asset Management which owns a substantial stake in Facebook, “called on Mark Zuckerberg to step down as board chairman in the wake of the report”.

“Facebook is behaving like it’s a special snowflake. It’s not. It is a company and companies need to have a separation of chair and CEO,” Kron was quoted as saying.

The New York Times report suggested that Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative firm which did PR work for the social networking giant “and dug up dirt on the company’s competitors and its critics”.

In a press call, Zuckerberg denied he had any prior knowledge about this firm.

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Facebook App on a smartphone device. (VOA)

“After reading the article, I got on the phone with our team and we are no longer working with this firm,” he said.

Definers allegedly “encouraged the depiction of Facebook’s critics as anti-Semites and had published news articles criticising Facebook’s competitors”.

Another Facebook investor Natasha Lamb from Arjuna Capital said the combined role of chairman and chief executive means that “Facebook can avoid properly fixing problems inside the company”, said the report.

According to TechCrunch, founded by a Republican campaign manager known for his dirt-digging prowess, Definers is far from a normal, politically neutral contractor.

In a statement, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also denied any knowledge of the firm.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg. Flickr

Facebook said that it used the consultant Definers Public Affairs to look into the funding of “Freedom from Facebook” to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, “but supported by a well-known critic of our company,” presumably liberal financier George Soros.

“To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue,” the company added.

Also Read- Xiaomi Drops Down Smartphone Prices in India

Facebook has also refuted allegation that it knew about Russian activity as early as the spring of 2016 but was slow to investigate it at every turn.

As fallout of the report, Facebook stocks fell 3 per cent on Friday to $139.53, the lowest since April 2017. (IANS)