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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

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 To Invest $300Mn In Local News Partnerships, Programs

The idea behind the investments, Brown said, is to look “holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model."

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Facebook owned photo-messaging app Instagram already supports the "Unsend" capability VOA

Facebook says it is investing $300 million over the next three years in local news programs, partnerships and other initiatives.

The money will go toward reporting grants for local newsrooms, expanding Facebook’s program to help local newsrooms with subscription business models and investing in nonprofits aimed at supporting local news.

The move comes at a difficult time for the news industry, which is facing falling profits and print readership. Facebook, like Google, has also been partly blamed for the ongoing decline in newspapers’ share of advertising dollars as people and advertisers have moved online.

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A user gets ready to launch Facebook on an iPhone, in North Andover, Mass., June 19, 2017. Facebook has made changes to fight false information, including de-emphasizing proven false stories in people’s feeds so others are less likely to see them. VOA

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, acknowledges the company “can’t uninvent the internet,” but says it wants to work with publishers to help them succeed on and off the social network.

“The industry is going through a massive transition that has been underway for a long time,” she said. “None of us have quite figured out ultimately what the future of journalism is going to look like but we want to be part of helping find a solution.”

Facebook has increased its focus on local news in the past year after starting off 2018 with the announcement that it was generally de-emphasizing news stories and videos in people’s feeds on the social network in favor of posts from their friends.

At the same time, though, the company has been cautiously testing out ways to boost local news stories users are interested in and initiatives to support the broader industry. It launched a feature called “Today In” that shows people local news and information , including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements, expanding it to hundreds of cities around the U.S. and a few in Australia.

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Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this illustration. VOA

The push to support local news comes as Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and elections-meddling. The company says users have been asking to see more local content that is relevant to them, including news stories as well as community information such as road closings during a snowstorm.

The $300 million investment includes a $5 million grant to the nonprofit Pulitzer Center to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” a fund that will provide local U.S. newsrooms with reporting grants to support coverage of local issues. There’s also a $2 million investment in Report for America as part of a partnership aiming to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across the country over the next five years.

The idea behind the investments, Brown said, is to look “holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model. Facebook can’t be the only answer, the only solution — we don’t want the publisher to be dependent on Facebook.”

Also Read: Democratic Lawmakers Further Investigate Russia’s Involvement In U.S. Election

Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, which is receiving $1 million together with the Local Media Association to help their member newsrooms develop new revenue streams, said she is optimistic the investment will help.

“I think they are recognizing that trusted, credible content is of benefit not only to local publishers but to them,” she said. (VOA)