Tim Cook: 'We Don't Buy' the Need to Give Up Privacy for AI

iOS-9-SiriDuring today's fourth quarter 2016 earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about Siri, artificial intelligence, home assistants vs. mobile assistants, and balancing AI with security, which led to some interesting new insights into Siri's popularity and Apple's privacy stance.

According to Cook, Apple is now getting more than 2 billion Siri requests per week. "It's very large," he said, "and to the best of our knowledge, we've shipped more assistant enabled devices than anyone out there." He went on to highlight Apple's efforts to deliver a great Siri experience around the world. While most AI services are limited to the United States, Siri is available in many countries. "We put a lot of energy into that," Cook said.

Cook also said that he believes there's more value in having a phone with a personal assistant built in, like Siri, than a home device. "We live in a mobile society," he said. "People are constantly moving from home to work and to other things they may be doing. And so the advantage of having an assistant on your phone is that it's with you all the time." He went on to say that there's still a market for a home assistant like the Amazon Echo, but that usage on a phone "will likely be much greater."

On security, Cook said that Apple does not believe there's a need to compromise security for the sake of artificial intelligence.

In terms of the balance of privacy and AI, this is a long conversation, but at a high level, this is a false tradeoff. People would like you to believe you have to give up privacy to have AI do something for you, but we don't buy that. It might take more work, it might take more thinking, but I don't think we should throw our privacy away. It's sort of like the age old argument between privacy and security. You should have both. You shouldn't have to make a choice.

In the past, rumors have suggested that Apple's staunch dedication to privacy has held back the development of Siri. Apple is said to employ "policy czars" that make sure Apple services are not collecting customer data, something that has restricted the way Siri can be used.

Apple has, however, made some important steps forward with Siri in recent years through the use of machine learning and a neural network, advancements Cook highlighted earlier in the call. Just this year, Apple was able to open up Siri to third-party developers, and the company is said to be hard at work on some major improvements that will allow Siri to do more and to be built into products like a rumored Echo-like smart home device.

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Top Rated Comments

enriquesh96 Avatar
101 months ago
Privacy is one of the reasons i stick with apple.
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
keysofanxiety Avatar
101 months ago
More mullarkey from Tim. Apple's privacy stance is precisely what's been holding Siri back from being useful in any meaningful way. I get far more accurate results with Google Now/Assistant & Amazon's Alexa than I ever have using Siri. At this point Siri is more of a hindrance than a useful tool.
Good. If that's the tradeoff, I'll take inherent privacy over a few more features when I choose to talk to my phone. Any day of the week.
Score: 41 Votes (Like | Disagree)
VMMan Avatar
101 months ago
Tim is right -- this time.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jerry16 Avatar
101 months ago
Siri is far from perfect, but I applaud Apple's hard line stance on privacy.

Keep it up Apple and I will keep spending my money with you. I believe privacy takes precedence over Siri and that in time, any trade offs being made between the two will be worked out.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Derekuda Avatar
101 months ago
LOL. Sure Tim! Siri is trash!

By the way, I would just like to point out how people get uptight about privacy, but then 5 minutes later post their entire life to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, etc.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kerrikins Avatar
101 months ago
More mullarkey from Tim. Apple's privacy stance is precisely what's been holding Siri back from being useful in any meaningful way. I get far more accurate results with Google Now/Assistant & Amazon's Alexa than I ever have using Siri. At this point Siri is more of a hindrance than a useful tool.
And customers like me thank him for it and stick with Apple because of it because we value our privacy more than a digital assistant.


They don't want to give up your privacy yet THEY receive 2 billion Siri requests every week!!

Nope, the only way for his statement to be true is for Apple to not receive a damn thing from you. And Siri will always be poorer too then it's competition. I would appreciate it relinquishing privacy for better services and more accuracy.

At this point Apples stupid comments about 'privacy' are nothing more then advertising soundbite gimmicks.
Google uses things like all the search and email data that they have, prior requests, contacts, basically everything that they can possibly pull and links it together (albeit 'anonymized') to provide the results they do. Apple doesn't do that. Maybe you're okay with blithely handing over everything about you for the profits of Google's coffers, but some of us aren't and I appreciate Apple being willing to give those of us in that camp an option. If they didn't then we'd have no options at all.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)