Apple’s Tim Cook urges Stanford students to take responsibility

Apple CEO Tim Cook had a few words of wisdom for Stanford’s 2019 graduating class.

During his commencement speech at Stanford University on Sunday, Cook praised technology’s role in “remaking society,” but also warned about letting it go unchecked. He urged graduates to be fearless in building things, but to also take responsibility for their effects on society.

Without naming any specific companies, Cook threw shade at Silicon Valley for thinking “good intensions excuse away horrible outcomes.” 

The Apple CEO indirectly called out companies such as Facebook and Theranos for abusing their positions of power without first considering the consequences.

“Lately it seems, this industry is becoming known for a less noble innovation: the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility,” said Cook. “We see it every day now, 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 of a drop of your blood.”

Several times, Cook reiterated the importance of tech companies thinking thoroughly about what they’re building before unleashing it onto the world. “If you build a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos; taking responsibility means having the courage to think things through,” he said.

“Our problems in technology, in politics, wherever are human problems,” Cook said. “From the Garden of Eden to today, it’s our humanity that got us into this mess and it’s our humanity that’s going to have to get us out.”

“If you build a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos.”

Cook also dedicated a good chunk of his speech to the importance of privacy in the face of increasing digital surveillance. Again, without calling out specific companies (hello Facebook!), Cook said ignoring privacy will lead to a world of self censorship.

“If we accept it as normal and unavoidable, that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold, or even leaked in a hack, then we lose so much more than data,” said Cook. “We lose the freedom to be human.”

“Think about what’s at stake. Everything you write, everything you say, every topic of curiosity, every stray thought, every impulsive purchase, every moment of frustration or weakness, every gripe or complaint, every secret shared in confidence,” said Cook. “In a world without digital privacy, even if you’ve done nothing wrong other than think differently, you begin to censor yourself. Not entirely at first — just a little, bit by bit. To risk less, to hope less, to imagine less, to dare less, to create less, to try less, to talk less, to think less.”

Cook warned the “chilling effect of digital surveillance” would be profound and that it “touches everything.”

Cook’s Stanford speech echoes the many he’s given over the years, where he’s championed the importance of privacy. 

At , Apple stressed it’s making privacy a core foundation of its products and services, as opposed to a feature enabled by consumers. One such new privacy service is “Sign in with Apple,” an alternative social login to Facebook and Google that doesn’t track you across the internet.

Though Cook’s speech largely focused on advising graduates to take responsibility for their creations, he also briefly touched on the bravery of those in the Stonewall riots as well as what Steve Jobs’ death taught him. “When the dust settled, all I knew was that I was going to have to be the best version of myself that I could be.”

Oh, and fun fact: Cook spent four years on the sailing team at his alma mater, Auburn University. “Tying knots is hard,” he said. The more you know…

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