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Apple Chief Tim Cook Calls Out ‘Data-Industrial Complex’

Tech exec says he’s also in favor of adopting European-style data protection laws in the U.S.

Without explicitly naming any competitors, Apple chief Tim Cook blasted several tech giants for mishandling user data on Wednesday, calling for sweeping U.S. legislation to better protect user privacy.

“Today, that trade has exploded into a data-industrial complex,” Cook said. “Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”

He added: “We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance.”

The stern remarks could easily be seen as criticism of Google and Facebook, two Silicon Valley stalwarts that have been heavily criticized in the last year for their handling of data privacy.

Facebook was rocked in March by the Cambridge Analytica data breach, where up to 87 million users had their information lifted by the political data firm. And in a separate attack, hackers grabbed profile information on 30 million users, the social network announced earlier this month. As for Google, the company had to shut down its Google+ social networking site after a data breach exposed half a million accounts earlier this month; the company is also being sued for tracking location history, even when users opt out of the feature.

Cook’s comments came during his keynote speech at the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels, Belgium. The event was coordinated by the EU, which recently adopted new laws allowing it to levy hefty fines against tech companies that abuse user data. Cook called for the United States to follow in the EU’s footsteps.

“It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country to follow your lead,” Cook said. “We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal law in the United States.”

Apple, which has become the world’s richest company by selling devices, would likely face less regulatory scrutiny than companies like Facebook and Google, which leverage user data to pull in billions in ad revenue. “Technology is and must always be rooted in the faith people have in it,” Cook added. “We also recognize not everyone sees it that way — in a way, the desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new.”