Security

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

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

At a recent forum in Beijing, Apple CEO Tim Cook called on US legislators to address digital privacy issues, highlighting the need for corporations to let their customers know how, when, and why their data is being used.

"The ability of anyone to know what you've been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life—from my own point of view, it shouldn't exist," he told the crowd at the annual China Development Forum on Saturday.

Cook later added: "I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary."

Facebook is reeling from revelations aired last week that the company had been allowing third-party app makers, developers, and others widespread access to significant amounts of their data. Many users have complained that they were not aware of Facebook's use of their personal data, 'like' history, and other profile features.

SEE: Employee privacy policy (Tech Pro Research)

The news has prompted a growing #DeleteFacebook movement, wreaking havoc on Facebook's stock market position and forcing CEO Mark Zuckerberg to release multiple apologies, even acquiescing to possible legislation by Congress.

"We've worried for a number of years that people in many countries were giving up data probably without knowing fully what they were doing and that these detailed profiles that were being built of them, that one day something would occur and people would be incredibly offended by what had been done without them being aware of it," Cook said, according to Bloomberg. "Unfortunately that prediction has come true more than once."

British news outlet Channel 4 released a series of videos and stories last week illustrating how political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used over 50 million American Facebook profiles to craft and bombard people with hyper-specific political messaging, some of which they openly admitted was propaganda and false information.

Both US and EU lawmakers are scrutinizing Cambridge Analytica's actions as well as Facebook's privacy policies concerning how they store and market access to people's data.

SEE: NY AG on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: "We will hold them accountable" (TechRepublic)

In an attempt to address this very issue, the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of rules designed specifically to protect data collected by any company that does business in any EU nation. The 2016 legislation comes into effect on May 25, and companies are scrambling to comply with it.

"Under the GDPR, before processing any personal data, a business must ask for explicit permission from the subject. The request must use clear language. The provisions of the regulation specifically outlaw the use of long documents filled with legalese, so hiding permissions within a tome called Terms and Conditions or Privacy Policy will not suffice," according to Tech Republic. "The consent must be given for a specific purpose and must be requested separately from other documents and policy statements."

Cook's predecessor, Steve Jobs, called on companies in 2010 to do many of the things listed in the GDPR themselves, warning of privacy issues that may crop up in the future.

"Privacy means people know what they're signing up for, in plain English, and repeatedly," Jobs said in a speech, according to TechCrunch. "I'm an optimist; I believe people are smart, and some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you're going to do with their data."

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Image: James Martin/CNET

About Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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