If you have been paying attention to tech news recently, then you know that government regulation is in the air. Pretty much every candidate in the upcoming Democratic Presidential race field in the US is either calling for or supportive of some level of regulation of big tech, with Elizabeth Warren leading the charge with calls to split companies up.
This isn’t just a campaign issue. It’s everywhere. Spotify is whining, crying and filing complaints against Apple. People are finally acting like they give a crap about privacy and how data collected on them is used. Some are outraged at the ways their personal info has been used and sold, or at how people have been manipulated using social media campaigns and misinformation. Most of the major companies in Silicon Valley are going to find themselves in the crosshairs of this backlash to some degree.
Apple is no exception. They are facing scrutiny because of the App Store and how they market their services, such as Apple Music. By marketing their own app and services, they are running a store while simultaneously competing with many companies using their store. This ground has all been covered quite well over the last month, so I am not going to re-tread it here and now.
The interesting new twist on this situation came in an interview that Tim Cook gave for the Time 100 Summit today in New York. Rather than fighting back against calls for regulations or taking the Mark Zuckerberg approach and just ignoring them for as long as possible, he is taking a far different approach. As he has done with privacy, Tim Cook is embracing the opposite approach and is actually publicly supporting government regulation of the tech industry.
Mr Cook wasn’t shy or non-committal about this, either, as seen here:
“We all have to be intellectually honest, and we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working,” said Cook, in an interview with former TIME Editor in Chief Nancy Gibbs. “Technology needs to be regulated. There are now too many examples where the no rails have resulted in a great damage to society.”
In my personal opinion, this argument feels a little overcooked, but the same could often be said about Mr Cook’s statements on privacy, as well. I have no doubt that Apple is committed to insuring user data privacy because it doesn’t hurt their business model and it also sets them apart from most of their competitors. However, sometimes they really lay the “privacy warrior” stance on a little too thick.
As for embracing US government regulation, that seems to carry a lot more potential risk for Apple’s business model. Our government isn’t known for its tech literacy or its predictability, so it’s hard to know how regulation would play out. However, by getting out in front of this issue, Tim Cook is doing something very smart. If he believes that government regulation of big tech is inevitable, then embracing it early could give Apple an opportunity to help shape the narrative. Given Mr Cook’s likeability and influence, Apple may be able to get a say in the process by being the first to embrace it.
By skating to where he thinks the puck is going, Cook is making a savvy business move. There isn’t any real risk to Apple is the push for government regulation fizzles. That isn’t something that will create a consumer backlash. However, if it does happen, it puts Apple in a better position than their competitors will be in. His previous public stance on user data privacy should also lend him some credibility with the people he would need to influence.
Personally, while I understand that some amount of government regulation may be necessary to keep big tech companies in check, I also want as little of it as possible. However, I still understand what Tim Cook was doing with this Time interview and think it’s a smart and forward-thinking move on his part. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out over the next two years.