In 1984, during the Super Bowl XVIII, Apple introduced its iconic ‘1984’ advert to the world. The Ridley Scott-directed spot, alluding to George Orwell’s novel, was a cri de cœur against technological conformity; it presented a world of techno-despotism and, in this imagining, personal Apple computers were the saviour.
And in 2018, Apple CEO Tim Cook is again warning about the dangers that technology could pose to the future of humanity.
Tim Cook, 57, gave a speech about the important of privacy – and how our data can be weaponised against us – at a conference in Brussels last week.
And his warnings – in the wake of notorious data scandals like Facebook-Cambridge Analytica – are very, very dire.
“Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies,” Cook said. “Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.
“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”
Cook, who in 2014 became the first Chief Executive of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay, went on: “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.
“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 may know yourself. Your profile is then run through algorithms that can serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into hardened convictions.
“We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.”
You might argue that it’s a touch ironic that the CEO of Apple, which has total assets worth $375 billion, is warning about companies enriching themselves but it’s at least a good first step to have such a high-profile tech figure banging the drum for consumer privacy.
You can listen to the speech in full here: