On Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave an interview to Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News on issues ranging from Russian advertisements to reforming America’s tax code.
The interview took place on Apple’s sprawling new headquarters in Cupertino. It aired following a second day of Congressional hearings on Kremlin-backed attempts to influence last year’s presidential election, involving bipartisan grilling of representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Congress released images of Russian-bought ads supporting Bernie Sanders, 2nd Amendment gun rights, and Trump that were disseminated on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms over the campaign season.
Surprisingly, Cook said that concerns about advertisements paid for by foreign governments are overblown, instead blaming social media platforms for manipulating and misinforming people.
“I don’t believe the big issue are ads from foreign governments. I believe that’s like .1 percent of the issue,” Cook says. “The bigger issue is that some of these tools are used to divide people, to manipulate people, to get fake news to people in broad numbers so as to influence their thinking. This to me is the No. 1 through 10 issue.”
In defense of his Silicon Valley peers, Cook noted that tech giants have “learned along the way a lot” since the election and reminded viewers that it’s up to people to learn how to use technology wisely. “We’ll probably learn more in those hearings as to the particulars. But I do think that technology itself doesn’t want to be good. It doesn’t want to be anything,” Cook said. “It’s up to the creator of the technology and the user of the technology to make it good.”
Cook also took the opportunity to remind viewers that Apple, for its part, placed a high premium on building trust with its fanbase and customers by remaining a firm advocate for consumer privacy, as it did during its legal standoff with the FBI in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting. Apple’s stance on privacy, Cook argued, should reassure government officials and consumers that the facial recognition technology on the forthcoming iPhone X is secure.
“We take a very pro-privacy view,” Cook says. “Apple doesn’t know what the content of your messages are. We encrypt FaceTime end to end. We don’t know what you’re saying.”
During the interview, Cook also advocated for corporate tax reform, noting that the US is encouraging companies such as Apple to keep their cash stashed overseas in order to avoid the high corporate tax rate on foreign profits. Apple is estimated to have in excess of $240 billion in cash held overseas that has yet to be taxed and Cook has publicly declared that the money will not be repatriated to the US until the effective tax rate is lowered.
“If you sell globally, you earn money globally. If you earn money globally you can’t bring it back into the United States unless you pay 35% plus your state tax,” Cook told CNBC in earlier this year. “And you look at this and you go, ‘this is kind of bizarre.’ You want people to use this money in the United States to invest more.”