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Apple’s Interest in a National Privacy Law: Promoting Consumer Protection or Self-Serving?

Tuesday Oct 30th 2018 by Sue Marquette Poremba

Will the states be the movers and shakers of data privacy regulations and seemingly keep consumer interests as the priority or will Apple and other tech companies take the lead to benefit themselves?

The tech industry, which spoke out against the California Consumer Privacy Act, is now jumping on the privacy law bandwagon, and the person leading the charge is Apple CEO, Tim Cook. At a keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC) in Brussels, Cook argued for a federal data privacy law and apparently came up with the phrase “data industrial complex.”

Cook railed against the idea that data is being weaponized against the people who generate it – consumers -- and said that the time has come to come up with tough privacy laws. The Guardian quoted Cook:

In many jurisdictions, regulators are asking tough questions. It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead. We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.

Cook’s speech comes after some of the leading tech companies, including Apple and Google, sat in front of a Senate hearing and claimed there is a need for a federal privacy law.

But is it all just self-serving hype? A lot of people seem to think so. The Washington Post pointed out that while the tech companies may say they want Congress to take action on the privacy front, their real goal is to usurp tough state laws with a watered-down federal law that they help create:

A federal law wiping out — otherwise known as preempting — state protections would be a bad deal for consumers. It would likely put existing consumer protections, many of which are state-led, on the chopping block and leave states bound by a federal law that could prevent additional consumer privacy protections from ever seeing the light of day.

And some security experts are skeptical of Cook’s comments at ICDPPC.  For example, in an email comment to me, Colin Bastable, CEO of Lucy Security, compared Cook to the auto and tobacco industries in the past, when they tried to be the arbiter of what is “good for the country,” but really, it is more about what is good for that particular industry. Bastable sees Cook’s commentary as an opportunity to make himself look like Silicon Valley’s golden boy in the eyes of consumers:

Tim Cook takes a break from virtue signaling to throw rocks at Google and Facebook, because he wants to position himself and Apple as the good guys whilst the others are vulnerable. His message is right, but Apple is also part of the problem. These players hold massive quantities of data, and we should never assume that they will ever have our best interests at heart.

Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech.com, agreed, telling me via email that by advocating for privacy laws, Apple isn’t really intent on helping its customers, but rather it is a practical way to indirectly lobby against Google.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out. Will the states be the movers and shakers of data privacy regulations and seemingly keep consumers’ interests as the priority or will Apple and other tech companies take the lead to benefit themselves?

Sue Marquette Poremba has been writing about network security since 2008. In addition to her coverage of security issues for IT Business Edge, her security articles have been published at various sites such as Forbes, Midsize Insider and Tom's Guide. You can reach Sue via Twitter: @sueporemba

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