Speaking at Duke University in North Carolina on Sunday, Cook made the case for Apple's "respectful" position on user information just weeks after Facebook was at the center of a global storm over a data breach that affected 87 million users.
"You know, I find that argument, that if you're not paying that somehow we can't care about you, to be extremely glib". Indeed, during a recent visit to Facebook, an official told Barron's the controversy swirling around the Cambridge Analytica privacy flap, as well as the company's role in the 2016 presidential election, has gnawed at employees concerned about the company's image.
"We reject the excuse that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy", said Cook, who earned an MBA from Duke.
"The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer - if our customer was our product", he said.
But while Cook often touts that Apple itself collects as little data as possible from its customers, it relies on a massive ecosystem of apps for its devices.
"In every way at every turn, the question we ask ourselves is not, 'What can we do?', but 'What should we do?"
Cook said his friend and mentor, Steve Jobs, showed him to never accept things as they are, but to dare to achieve something greater. Ever since Apple itself became the center of attraction in the USA 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.
The firm announced in February it was planning to move iCloud accounts registered in China to state-run servers.
And in 2014, hackers were able to steal nude photos from celebrities' iCloud accounts.
"No generation has ever had more power than yours", Cook said at Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium. "And no generation has a chance to change things faster than yours can", said Cook to the more than 5,500 students who graduated.
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