Apple CEO Tim Cook blasted the invisible 'shadow economy' that profits off your information

  • Tim Cook published an op-ed in Time Magazine on Thursday arguing for the US to rein in data brokers in order to give people true privacy when it comes to their data.
  • Data brokers are firms such as Experian or Oracle which collect huge amounts of information on consumers, then sell that data or insights based on the data to their customers.
  • Most people aren't aware that data brokers exist, and how they hoover up online information.
  • Cook called for new federal privacy regulation to shine a light on data brokers' dealings.

Apple CEO Tim Cook came after the "shadow economy" of firms profiting from people's personal data in a column for Time Magazine on Wednesday.

Cook set his sights on data brokers, saying that they need to be reined in. Data brokers are firms which act as middlemen, transferring data between different companies and parties, or as Cook put it, "a company that exists purely to collect your information, package it and sell it to yet another buyer." The biggest data brokers are firms such as Axciom, Experian, and Oracle.

"Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that's largely unchecked— out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers," the Apple CEO wrote.

Cook called for the US government to create federal privacy legislation to empower consumers and make data brokers register with a specialised "clearinghouse" to increase transparency.

Related: How Tim Cook spends his $250M net worth

How Tim Cook spends his $250M net worth
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How Tim Cook spends his $250M net worth

Tim Cook is worth at least $625.37 million, according to a 2017 estimate by data company Equilar reported by Time.

Source: TIME

The bulk of that is from his total stock options and shares in Apple, which total nearly $622 million. Cook is also on the Nike board of directors, where he has $3.4 million in stock options.

Source: TIME

Cook's actual net worth is certainly even higher than that — but information on his property, investment portfolio, and cash on hand isn't publicly available.

Source: TIME

That's relatively low compared to other tech CEOs. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Page are all worth tens of billions. 

Source: Forbes

Even though Apple is the highest-value company on the planet, there's only one known Apple-related billionaire: Laurene Powell Jobs, who is Apple cofounder Steve Jobs' widow.

Source: Forbes

In 2017, Cook's salary as CEO was $3 million. That's up from his first year as CEO in 2011, when his salary was $900,000.

Sources: Apple regulatory filings from 2018 and 2012

Cook, who came out as gay in 2014, is not married and has no children. He leads a private, solitary life, but here's what we know about how he spends his fortune...

Sources: Business Insider, Quora, Time

Despite being a multi-millionaire, Cook is remarkably frugal. He reportedly buys his underwear at Nordstrom's semi-annual sale.

Source: Mashable

"I like to be reminded of where I came from, and putting myself in modest surroundings helps me do that," Cook said. "Money is not a motivator for me."

Source: Inside Apple excerpt by Adam Lashinsky

As of 2012, Cook lives in a $1.9 million Palo Alto home that's 2,400 square feet. That's relatively modest for the ritzy Bay Area city, which now has a median home value of $3.3 million.

Sources: Cult of Mac, Fortune, Zillow

Cook spends most of his time at the office — which includes reportedly waking up at 3:45 a.m. to start reading and responding to emails.

Source: Business Insider

As for travel, Cook has to travel often for work. Apple spent $93,109 last year on Cook's private plane alone.

Source: Apple regulatory filing from 2018

But he keeps it domestic when it comes to personal travel, visiting spots like Yosemite National Park.

Source: TIME

One of his known vacations was to New York City with his nephew. He showed the tween boy around the New York Stock Exchange in 2016.

Source: CNBC

Indeed, Cook's most-known hobby is his love of fitness, hiking, and cycling.

Source: TIME

Cook goes to the gym at 5 a.m. every morning — but not the Apple company gym, so he can keep a low profile.

Sources: Mashable, Business Insider

But we do know that Cook likes to spend money on political causes. He's thrown fundraisers for politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Source: Fortune, NPR

And Cook plans to give away all of his money to charity when he dies. He has no children of his own, and wants to create a better world for his nephew. "You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change," he told Fortune in 2015.

Source: Fortune

Cook has called for federal regulation of consumer data before, and repeated some of the points he laid out in his attack on data-hoarding tech firms at a privacy conference in Brussels in October.

Cook has kept the pressure up on privacy, consistently criticising other tech companies for hoovering up people's data to feed their business models. Apple recently mounted a large poster in Las Vegas at CES — the world's largest tech show — saying "What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone" in what was seen as a direct challenge to Google.

However, others have criticised Cook's privacy crusade as hypocritical. Ex-Facebook security chief Alex Stamos in October pointed to Apple's business in China, which he described as an "ethical blindspot" for the company.

Likewise, while Apple doesn't have an online ad business akin to Google or Facebook's, it is perfectly happy taking billions of dollars so that Google is the default search engine on the Safari browser.


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