- Apple CEO Tim Cook said in his commencement speech at Stanford University that the tech industry is becoming known for the belief that "you can claim credit without accepting responsibility."
- Although he didn’t reference any companies by name, his comments seem to apply to recent controversies surrounding firms like Facebook and Theranos.
- He urged graduates to learn from the mistakes made by these companies.
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Apple CEO Tim Cook said he believes Silicon Valley tech giants need to be held responsible for the consequences stemming from their innovations.
Cook pushed for such responsibility while giving the 2019 commencement speech at Stanford University on Sunday, a highly-regarded university within the tech world that has a reputation for jump-starting the careers of high-profile Silicon Valley executives. It counts Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings among its attendees.
"Lately, it seems this industry is becoming better known for a less noble innovation: the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility," Cook said in reference to the tech sector.
"We see it every day now," he said. "With every data breach, every privacy violation, every blind eye turned to hate speech, fake news poisoning our national conversation. The false miracles in exchange for a single drop of your blood."
The Apple chief executive didn’t call out specific companies by name, but he didn’t have to. The examples he cited in his speech echo controversies surrounding companies such as Facebook, Theranos, and YouTube that have dominated the news cycle in recent years.
Facebook, in particular, has been caught in the public eye in recent years for numerous scandals over the way it handles and protects user data and the rise of fake content on its platform.
Last year, The New York Times and The Guardian reported that a data analytics firm linked to President Trump’s campaign had harvested data from 50 million Facebook profiles. Separately, the social media giant said that it unintentionally uploaded the email contacts of 1.5 million users since May 2016 without their knowledge, as Business Insider reported in April.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also initially downplayed concerns over the impact that misinformation spread through the social network had in the 2016 presidential election, initially calling it a "pretty crazy idea." He later backtracked that remark.
Cook also seemingly called out Theranos in his speech, the once red-hot tech company founded by Elizabeth Holmes that was valued at $9 billion before The Wall Street Journal revealed that its revolutionary blood testing technology was a sham. Holmes was charged with fraud in 2018.
Google’s YouTube has also come under fire for the proliferation of toxic content on its platform. Most recently, the company faced criticism over its decision not to take action against YouTube star Steven Crowder after he made homophobic and racist comments.
"Too many seem to think that good intentions excuse away harmful outcomes," Cook said during Stanford’s commencement speech. "But whether you like it or not, what you build and what you create define who you are. It feels a bit crazy that anyone should have to say this, but if you built a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos."
Cook also touched on the importance of digital privacy, a topic that Apple has been increasingly vocal about both during its press events and in its advertisements. "The chilly effect of digital surveillance is profound, and it touches everything," he said. "What a small unimaginative world we would end up with."
The comments also expand upon topics Cook mentioned in his recent commencement speech at Tulane University in May. During that speech, he urged graduates to "push back" against algorithms that promote the "things you already know, believe, or like." This too appeared to be a reference to Facebook, which has faced criticism in the past over the way its algorithms are crafted to promote content from close friends and family members that may share your ideas and outlook, therefore creating what has been called a "filter bubble."
He left graduates with a simple piece of advice: "Graduates, at the very least, learn from these mistakes," he said. "If you want to take credit, first learn to take responsibility."
Watch Cook’s speech below.
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