Apple CEO Tim Cook, who received his MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business in 1988, returned to Durham this weekend to deliver a stirring commencement address to Duke University undergrads. He sent a clear message about data privacy - once again - to 5,500 graduates. "So we choose a different path, collecting as little of your data as possible, being thoughtful and respectful when it's in our care because we know it belongs to you".
Although he didn't mention them by name, Cook took a subtle jab at Facebook, the social networking giant facing increased scrutiny over how it manages data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Cook's calculus is shrewd: His underlying argument, tucked within the speech, is a reminder that Apple considers itself a trustworthy and socially responsible employer, which plays well in the Silicon Valley recruiting wars.
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After that, Apple committed to increased transparency, and the company encrypted iPhones to make it more hard for anyone - even authorities - to get their hands on data. Without naming names, Cook was clearly making a reference to the recent privacy scandal that has rocked Facebook and, by extension, the rest of the tech industry. Ever since Apple itself became the center of attraction in the U.S. government's efforts to weaken encryption on smartphones and cellular networks, the company has become a poster boy for protecting users' privacy even in the face of extreme pressure.
Apple had no comment on Cook's speech, but the company has insisted in the past that its message about privacy has been consistent for almost a decade.
Cook and Apple have been quick to distance themselves in privacy matters, putting forward what it believes is the proper way to collect and handle users' data. "And the first people to stand up and change them for the better", Cook said. "And yet the potential adverse consequences are spreading faster and cutting deeper".
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Cook told the Duke students they could be the solution to the epidemic of data abuse in American society.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shot back at Cook in an interview published by Vox last month.
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