Tim Cook Demands New Commitment to Responsibility from Big Tech

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With the moral and commercial high ground in clear sight, Tim Cook used the spotlight at Stanford University’s commencement ceremony Saturday to slam Big Tech peers Google, Facebook, and Twitter for failing to take responsibility for the hateful content and disinformation on their platforms.

While Cook did not name a rival firm, he clearly targeted his user-generated content-dependent peers for lax privacy practices and bad-faith arguments that they bear no responsibility for the violence and falsehoods propagated in their media ecosystems. Of responsibility in particular, Cook said:

“Whether you like it or not, what you build and what you create define who you are. It feels a bit crazy that anyone should have to say this. But if you’ve built a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos. Taking responsibility means having the courage to see things through.”

This starkly contrasts repeated claims from Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook, now weakening in the face of withering criticism for facilitating election hacking and providing a playground for white supremacists and pedophiles, that they are neutral and would be limiting freedom of speech by eliminating blatantly false and discriminatory content.

Cook also zeroed in on privacy, 2019’s big technology issue, raking his peers over the coals for recklessly harvesting and sharing data as well as clarifying the risks of a digital world without privacy.

“In a world without digital privacy, even if you’ve done nothing wrong other than think differently, you begin to censor yourself,” Cook said. “Not entirely at first, just a little. Bit by bit. To risk less, to hope less, to imagine less, to dare less, to create less, to try less, to talk less, to think less.”

Of course, it’s not a purely ethical incentive motivating the Apple chief to speak out on privacy, as it has in a big way this year with ad campaigns touting its commitment to the issue and a new product, Sign in with Apple, that limits sites tracking capabilities. Since Apple lacks smartphone-making rival Google’s digital ad biz, it has a relatively easy path and commercial reason to present itself as the superior firm on privacy matters.

Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at [email protected]