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Apple CEO Tim Cook says algorithms are evil, harming society

Speaking at a conference, Apple's CEO Tim Cook has warned the world against trusting algorithm-based social media platforms.

Sushant Talwar | January 29, 2021 | Updated 13:19 IST

Highlights

  • Apple's CEO Tim Cook has warned the world against algorithms.
  • He has taken a dig at social media apps based on algorithms.
  • Apple is soon going to announce new privacy features.

In an attack on social media platforms, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, urged the world to understand the consequences of blindly trusting algorithm-based platforms that reward dangerous behaviour and even push people towards extremism and polarisation -- all in the name of increasing user engagement. Speaking at the International Conference on Computers, Privacy and Data Protection, Cook said that this approach comes at a cost" of polarization, lost trust and yes, of violence."

Without taking any names, Cook took the fight to giants of the tech world such as Facebook as he blamed them for asking what they can get away with, rather than what happens if they follow through on boosting metrics. Speaking to the audience virtually, he said, "Too many are still asking the question how much can we get away with when we should be asking what are the consequences? What are the consequences of not just tolerating but rewarding content that undermines public trust in life-saving vaccinations? What are the consequences of seeing thousands of users join extremist groups and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends more?".

"Can't turn a blind eye to algorithms"

Addressing millions across the globe, Cook alluded to the recent Capitol riots in the United States and also referred to in passing the Netflix documentary, Social Dilemma, as he went on to warn the world of the negative effects of social media on society.

He explained, "At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement -- the longer the better -- and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible... What are the consequences of seeing thousands of users join extremist groups, and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends even more."

He then went on to raise a very important point as he asked the audience if the future will "belong to the innovations that make our lives better" or if it will "belong to those tools that prize our attention to the exclusion of everything else, compounding our fears and aggregating extremism, to serve ever-more-invasively-targeted ads over all other ambitions?".

Apple's new privacy feature

Interestingly, these comments from Cook come at a time when Apple is closing in on the roll out of a new App Tracking Transparency system which promises to inform users when third-party apps attempt to access advertising information on the company's devices. For what it's worth, Google has already said it is on-board and is working to include these changes in the many apps it operates on iOS, iPadOS and macOS. However, it appears Facebook is not too keen on including these new changes as it steadily appears to be heading towards a dispute with Apple over the implementation of this new privacy feature.

Apple too has started taking indirect shots at Facebook as earlier this week it also released a report that took a swipe at the ad industry and revealed that apps on average have six trackers from other companies. These trackers, it claims, come with the "sole purpose of collecting and tracking people and their personal information".

Further, the report adds that this leads to the generation of $227 billion in revenue each year. While it's not clear how big a chunk of this goes to Facebook, it won't really come as a surprise if the majority of it is indeed pocketed by the social media platform.

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