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Apple’s Tim Cook: Our personal data is ‘weaponized against us’ by you-know-who

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The world’s data and privacy “crisis” is real, Tim Cook told Europe’s privacy watchdogs today, warning that our likes, fears, and hopes have become the fodder for trade by companies collecting personal data with “military efficiency”.

That trade in personal information “has exploded into a data industrial complex”, he argued in an impassioned speech congratulating Europe for introducing the GDPR privacy regulations.

“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” he said.

Cook’s keynote in Brussels at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners didn’t mention Facebook and Google, two companies he’s criticized before over privacy and data collection.

However, he warned that the mass collection of private data amounts to surveillance in action.

“Every day billions of dollars change hands and countless decisions are made on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations, our wishes and fears, our hopes and dreams,” he said.

“These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold. Taken to its extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you know yourself.”

He also called out the advancement of AI through the mass collection of personal profiles “laziness, not efficiency”.

He argued we shouldn’t “sugarcoat the consequences” of this data collection. “This is surveillance,” said Cook.

“These stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them,” he added.

Cook endorsed Europe’s GDPR privacy laws, which came into effect in May, and called on the US to follow suit with matching regulations at a federal level.

Cook said privacy regulations should cover four key rights, including the right to have personal data minimized, the right to access information collected by a company, and the right to know what information is collected and for what purpose.

“Anything less is a sham,” he said.

“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 competence federal privacy law in the United States.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook: We shouldn’t “sugarcoat the consequences” of data collection. “This is surveillance.”


Image: European Data Protection Supervisor/YouTube

Previous and related coverage

Apple to US users: Here’s how you can now see what personal data we hold on you

Apple’s privacy tools now go beyond Europe, so more now get to download the personal data it has collected.

The iPhone doesn’t spy on users, Apple tells US lawmakers

Apple again tells congress that iPhone customers are “not our product”.

Apple’s Tim Cook: Facebook’s privacy blunder ‘so dire’ we need regulations

Cook thinks Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal is so big that it warrants “well-crafted regulation”.

Facebook’s new privacy settings: Look out for these shortcuts, data delete options

Amid the ongoing trust crisis, Facebook users get an easier way to download their data and new mobile privacy settings.

Could Facebook’s data debacle force more companies to act like Apple on privacy? TechRepublic

Apple CEO Tim Cook called on Congress to create tougher measures protecting people’s data and privacy.

In the future, not even your DNA will be sacred CNET

Commentary: Even if you haven’t shared your DNA with a genealogy website, chances are you’re identifiable now. (Spoiler: Your third cousin sold you out).

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Twitter shuttering NY, SF offices in response to new CDC guidelines – TechCrunch

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Just two weeks after reopening its New York and San Francisco offices, social media giant Twitter said Wednesday that it will be closing those offices “immediately.”

The decision came “after careful consideration of the CDC’s updated guidelines, and in light of current conditions,” a spokesperson said.

“Twitter has made the decision to close our opened offices in New York and San Francisco as well as pause future office reopenings, effective immediately. We’re continuing to closely monitor local conditions and make necessary changes that prioritize the health and safety of our Tweeps,” the spokesperson added.

The company initially just reopened those offices on July 12. It declined to reveal headcount per office.

The CDC this week recommended that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high Covid transmission rates amid concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant.

Earlier today, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater reported that Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work on-site. It was part of a larger letter sent to Google/Alphabet staff that also noted the company will be extending its work-from-home policy through October 18, as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to sweep through the global population.

In a message to TechCrunch, Facebook’s VP of People, Lori Goler, confirmed a similar policy for the social media behemoth.

Amazon also responded to TechCrunch’s inquiry on the matter, noting, “We strongly encourage Amazon employees and contractors to be vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 vaccines are available to them.”

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Snapchat adds My Places feature to Snap Map, recommending spots to visit – TechCrunch

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As more people are venturing out into the world this summer (safely, we hope!), Snapchat wants to make it easier for people to find restaurants, stores, parks and other interesting spots in their neighborhood. Today, Snapchat is starting to roll out the My Places feature on its Snap Map, which connects users with over 30 million businesses. Users can log their favorite spots, send them to friends, and find recommendations.

My Places has three main tabs: visited, favorites and popular. Visited lists places you’ve checked into on Snapchat, and favorites saves, well, your favorites. But the popular tab is particularly interesting because it marks the first time that Snapchat is using an algorithm to provide personalized recommendations to help people engage with the world around them. The algorithm considers where you are, what you’ve tagged or favorited already, and where your friends and other Snapchatters have visited.

This further differentiates the social-forward Snap Map from more established resources like Google Maps and Apple Maps, which you can’t really use to find out what restaurants your friends like. Sure, Snapchat can’t give you directions to that trendy sushi bar, but it’s not meant to, just like how Google Maps isn’t meant to show you what bar all your friends went to without you last night.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Snapchat shared survey results indicating that its users are more likely on average to engage in “post-pandemic” activities (is that a good thing?) and added that 44% of Snapchatters turn to the Snap Map to find places around them that they’re interested in.

With over 250 million monthly active users on Snap Map, the company announced an update in May called Layers, which lets partner companies add data directly to their own map. So far, Snapchat has collaborated with Ticketmaster and The Infatuation, a restaurant recommendation website — these partnerships help users see where they can find live entertainment, or what great restaurants are hidden in plain sight. Snapchat plans to further integrate Layers into Snap Map and My Places later this year.

Last week, Snap announced that during Q2 this year, it grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Year over year, the app grew 23%.

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Facebook warns of ‘headwinds’ to its ad business from regulators and Apple – TechCrunch

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Facebook posted its second quarter earnings Wednesday, beating expectations with $29 billion in revenue.

The world’s biggest social media company was expected to report $27.8 billion in revenue for the quarter, a 50 percent increase from the same period in 2020. Facebook reported earnings per share of $3.61, which also bested expectations. The company’s revenue was $18.6 billion in the same quarter of last year.

In the first financial period to really reflect a return to quasi-economic normalcy after a very online pandemic year, Facebook met user growth expectations. At the end of March, Facebook boasted 2.85 billion monthly active users across its network of apps. At the end of its second quarter, Facebook reported 2.9 billion monthly active users, roughly what was expected.

The company’s shares opened at $375 on Wednesday morning and were down to $360 in a dip following the earnings report.

In spite of a strong quarter, Facebook is warning of change ahead — namely impacts to its massive ad business, which generated $28.5 billion out of the company’s $29 billion this quarter. The company specifically named privacy-focused updates to Apple’s mobile operating system as a threat to its business.

“We continue to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates, which we expect to have a greater impact in the third quarter compared to the second quarter,” the company stated its investor report outlook.

On the company’s investor call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed to Facebook’s plans to reduce its reliance on ad revenue, noting the company’s expanded efforts to attract and support content creators and its e-commerce plans in particular. “We want our platforms to be the best place for creators to make a living,” Zuckerberg said, adding that the company plans to monetize creator tools starting in 2023.

Zuckerberg also emphasized Facebook’s grand aspirations for social experiences in VR. “Virtual reality will be a social platform, which is why we’re so focused on building it,” Zuckerberg said.

No matter what Facebook planned to report Wednesday, the company is a financial beast. Bad press and user mistrust in the West haven’t done much to hurt its bottom line and the company’s ad business is looking as dominant as ever. Short of meaningful antitrust reform in the U.S. or a surging competitor, there’s little to stand in Facebook’s way. The former might still be a long shot given partisan gridlock in Congress, even with the White House involved, but Facebook is finally facing a threat from the latter.

For years, it’s been difficult to imagine a social media platform emerging as a proper rival to the company, given Facebook’s market dominance and nasty habit of acquiring competitors or brazenly copying their innovations, but it’s clear that TikTok is turning into just that. YouTube is huge, but the platforms matured in parallel and co-exist, offering complementary experiences.

TikTok hit 700 million monthly active users in July 2020 and surpassed three billions global downloads earlier this month, becoming the only non-Facebook owned app to do so, according to data from Sensor Tower. If the famously addictive short form video app can successfully siphon off some of the long hours that young users spend on Instagram and Facebook’s other platforms and make itself a cozy home for brands in the process, the big blue giant out of Menlo Park might finally have something to lose sleep over.

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