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Hey Siri! At Apple WWDC 2016, Tim Cook needs to make big data, AI pivot
June 6, 2016 News

Apple needs to change its attitude and approach to customer data, back away from the big data corner it has painted itself into, and use its upcoming World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) to lay out some sort of artificial intelligence vision.

Amazon has Alexa and its Echo. Google has Home, Assistant and a bevy of other services. Microsoft has Cortana.

Meanwhile, Apple has its long-in-the-tooth Siri that reportedly will be opened up to third party developers.

Over the last two years, Apple has dug its heels in on privacy, vilified ad models to some degree and knocked Silicon Valley rivals (read Facebook and Google) for using customers as the products and collecting too much information.

In many ways, Apple in the Tim Cook era has been about privacy concerns and keeping customer data local. Here are a few notable Cook quotes over the last two years.

Cook on Charlie Rose in September 2014:

“Our business is not based on having information about you. You’re not our product. I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money. And if they’re making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried…We take a very different view of this than a lot of other companies have. Our view is, when we design a new service, we try not to collect data. We’re not in that business. I’m offended by lots of it. And so, I think people have a right to privacy.”

And here’s Cook during a June 2015 privacy event by EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), a group that champions data rights and even algorithm transparency.

“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”

Meanwhile, there’s Cook’s open letter on Apple’s privacy site. “Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers,” said Cook. “We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.”

As a customer, I commend Apple’s approach. As an Apple customer, I also realize that Apple may need to find some balance with its data practices if it’s going to compete in a market where artificial intelligence and big data enabled assistants are everywhere. I also realize that the privacy-speak may be a way to spin a reality where Apple doesn’t have the AI know how for the future.

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