Tim Cook defended Apple’s approach to security: ‘Encryption is inherently great’

Apple ceo tim cook keynote speech
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on stage 7 during a launch event on September 7, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook has robustly defended his company’s strident approach to security in a new on-stage Q&A, declaring: “Encryption is inherently great.”

The Cupertino tech exec spoke in Salt Lake City, Utah, as part of the US state’s “Utah Tech Tour” event, and video footage of the session is available online. (Scroll down to watch it.)

Taking questions from the audience, Cook discussed a number of subjects, including augmented reality, Apple’s business objectives, and formative lessons he has learned. We first heard about the session from 9to5Mac.

And when asked about security, he reiterated Apple’s hardline stance on user privacy — and the benefits of making strong encryption technology available to all.

‘This is one of the biggest issues that we face,” he said. “Encryption is what makes the public safe. As you know, there are people kept alive because the grid is up. If our grid goes down, if there was a grid attack, the public’s safety is at risk” — hence the need for encryption to protect it.

“You can imagine defence systems need encryption, because there are a few bad actors in the world who might like to attack those.”

Cook also alluded to Apple’s battle with the FBI earlier in 2016. Investigators wanted Apple to build a tool that would help them get into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters to look for potential evidence about the terrorist attack; Apple resisted, arguing that building the tool would set a dangerous precedent, and make all users less safe.

The FBI ultimately bought an unpatched exploit for Apple’s software from a third-party vendor.

“Some people have tried to make it out to be bad,” the chief executive told the audience at the Utah question-and-answer session. “Encryption is inherently great, and we would not be a safe society without it. So this is an area that is very, very important for us … as you can tell from our actions earlier this year, we throw all of ourselves into this.”

He added: “We’re very much standing on principle here.”

Other subjects Tim Cook discussed included:

  • The need for better computer education in schools.”We feel really strongly that coding should be a required language in school.”
  • What Apple looks for in job applicants. “We look for wicked smart people … we look for grit and determination, we look for people that are curious, because many times you don’t really know what to do but you’re curious enough to start pulling the string an see where it takes you … we look for people who are very collaborative … and we look for people who won’t accept the status quo.”
  • The possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically with regards to photography. “Through the use of AI, we can begin to do unbelievable things for you on your behalf … it will make your heart sing.”
  • Why engineers have to take a broader view of things. “What I quickly concluded was that engineering wasn’t sufficient. That there were so many things that should be considered in the most complex problems. That you needed a view of strategy and society and what society’s main issues were, so the engineering could be applied to things that it should be applied to … and for that reason I took an ethics class in grad school.”
  • The reason Apple doesn’t care about being first. There are three possible objectives for any business, Cook said: “Being the best, being the first, making the most. For Apple being the best is the most important, and trumps the other two by far. However, for other companies — some companies might look at that and say no, for me being the first is the most important. So I think the thing is to decide so that you have a north star.”
  • His vision for the future of augmented reality. Augmented reality (AR) will be bigger than virtual reality, Cook argued, because “few people think it will be acceptable to be enclosed in something … it’s likely that AR of the two that the largest number of people will engage with … a significant population of developed countries … will have AR experiences every day.”
  • The legacy of Steve Jobs, the legendary late cofounder of Apple. “I want his legacy to be with Apple forever … not for Apple to be constrained by it … but we’re very much married to his vision of making the best products that enrich people’s lives. That doesn’t change.”

Here’s video of the full question-and-answer session:

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