Apple's Tim Cook: Innovation shouldn't come at the expense of privacy

Apple chief executive articulates the company's commitment to innovation but not at the expense of privacy, sustainability or equality

Tim Cook (left) with Marc Benioff
Tim Cook (left) with Marc Benioff

Too many people confuse innovation with change, and trade on false positives such as privacy coming at the expense of progress, Apple CEO, Tim Cook believes. And it’s by identifying the distinction between these that he says allows the technology company to continue to succeed.

Speaking in a fireside chat with Salesforce chairman and co-CEO, Marc Benioff, at this year’s Dreamforce, Cook described innovation as one of the key tenets of the Apple business. He defined innovation as about making things better, not just merely changing for change’s sake.

“That requires a depth of thought that goes well beyond merely changing something,” Cook told attendees.

It’s also about keeping up innovating while staying true to Apple’s values. One of these is a commitment to privacy, something the company is increasing differentiating itself on against other digital players using customer data to sell advertising and targeting services, such as Google and Facebook.

“We care deeply that we embed privacy in all our products. Privacy is very important to us – we view it as a fundamental human right,” Cook said. “So we have doubled down on this across the products.”

Cook in fact suggested exchanging privacy for progress was one of the many “false trade-offs” many make in the pursuit of innovation using technology.

“There are lots of false trade-offs out there – some people think you can’t do great artificial intelligence or machine learning unless you have a boatload of data and understand everyone’s personal life. We don’t subscribe to that - we think that’s a false trade-off,” he said. “Some think you can’t grow into a big business without a carbon footprint – we reject that.

“There are a lot of these false choices are out there, embedded in people’s minds. We try to systemically reject all of those and turn them on their heads.”

On the sustainability front, Cook pointed to the extensive work done to map Apple’s carbon footprint as well as that of its users when they’re using its products as an illustration of its deep commitment to sustainability. Apple has now transition to 100 per cent renewable energy and is exploring how to help suppliers and partners go the same way.

“We looked in the mirror and recognised we wanted to be a steward of the earth. We didn’t want to do merely the things we’re legally required to do, but go well beyond that,” Cook said.

“We first started out to understand our carbon footprint. We looked at our manufacturing, freight, movement of product in addition to everything happening at Apple. We developed a deep understanding of what we were contributing. Then we took each piece of it, and not just try to buy credit, but challenged ourselves to put new energy in the grid.

“It takes more work to do this, time and deep engineering. But as it turns out, anyone can do it. In the aggregate, we’re doing something that’s economically good.”

Equality is another important piece of the puzzle for Apple, and Cook advocated for ‘dreamers’, or illegal immigrants to the US, to be awarded residency permanently. He noted 450 dreamers now work within Apple.

All these values are embedded in Apple as a business. “They’re not bolt-on things. You don’t bolt-on privacy, for example, you think about it in the development of products,” Cook said.

“You can see what happens when companies decide one day to do something privacy-wise; you just can’t do it. You have to design that way. It’s the same with the environment – what kind of materials are you using, for instance... We share these values and they’re deeply embedded in the way we think and conduct ourselves.”

Getting to this point therefore means operationalising your values. “If you don’t, it becomes a marketing thing,” Cook warned.

“We don’t want to ‘market’, we want to do and make a difference. In order to make a difference, you have to operationalise it, otherwise it becomes a slogan de jour or a poster on the wall.”

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.

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