Apple CEO Tim Cook shows courage tackling big data ethics

By Nicola Rossi,

Speaking at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels last week, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook took the lead on the other tech giants. He came across as someone who genuinely wants to find solutions to the thorny issues around privacy and data protection that are inseparable from their business models. Nor was he afraid to talk frankly about the dangers to individuals, society and the technology companies themselves, of not getting the right protections in place as quickly as possible.

Cook’s appearance is a case study for professional communicators in how to get it right when dealing with a highly contentious issue. Let’s not forget, Apple has reputation battle scars from 2014, when hundreds of celebrities’ photos in their care were compromised. The company suffered a targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions.  When put on the spot at the time, Cook stumbled to find the right words to describe what had happened, and as a result was awarded the title of Chief Obfuscation Champion by the Financial Times’ Lucy Kellaway.

His performance last week was in complete contrast. He did everything right.

1: He turned up – unlike Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai who only sent pre-recorded video messages, leaving their more junior policy staff to handle questions at the event itself. This made his peers seem less committed in comparison to Cook.

2: He made his points clearly, and took the precaution of both pre-briefing the media, and sending his thoughts out on Twitter so no-one was in any doubt about what he meant.

3: He took the high ground, scoring a direct hit on both hearts and minds. “It all boils down to a fundamental question: What kind of world do we want to live in? Apple wants to be a partner in answering this question.”

Finally, he made a point about trust which PR people should quote in discussions with clients and internal customers: “We will never achieve technology’s true potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it”. These are wise words, and relevant to any business that is developing, selling or using technology to manage its relationship with its customers.

Nicola Rossi is a communications strategist and author.

Featured image courtesy of flickr user Mike Deerkoski, under CC2.0.

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