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Apple CEO Tim Cook talks privacy and dodges car questions in NPR interview

A few weeks after he was a guest on Stephen Colbert's Late Show, Apple CEO Tim Cook has made another media appearance, this time on public radio in the United States. Cook was a guest on NPR's All Things Considered, answering questions posed by host Robert Siegel during an 8-minute segment during which he discussed user privacy, governmental requests for information, and the possibility of an Apple car.

Siegel started the interview by noting that Apple has refused to give user information such as texts to the US government in the past, but questioned whether, if the conversations were about "hijacked airplanes, and skyscrapers, and dirty bombs," Apple would provide that data. Cook said that the government comes to the company for information "from time to time," explaining that "if they ask for us in a way that is correct and has been through the courts, as is required — to the degree that we have that information — that we give that information."

But the Apple boss specified that rather than taking most user data into Apple, the company "kept data on the phone," allowing it to be controlled and encrypted by the user. "Privacy," he said, "is a fundamental human right," arguing that so-called "backdoors" into networks and systems that allow them to be monitored are not a good idea. "If you have an open door in your software, then the bad guys get in there too," Cook said, before referencing June's hack of the Office of Personnel Management. That event, widely attributed to Chinese cyberattackers, saw potentially sensitive information about upwards of 9 million current and former US government employees stolen. But Cook says that US agencies have not explicitly requested such a backdoor from the company. "I don't think you'll hear the NSA asking for a backdoor," he told Siegel.

The company recently updated its privacy site, adding details about how data is collected in iOS 9, and incorporated a letter from Cook itself, published after last year's "Celebgate" nude picture leak. Speaking during today's interview, Cook said that Apple's view on privacy comes from "a values view, not from a commercial interest view." The Apple CEO took a swipe at competitor Google, saying that his company doesn't look at its customers as its products, and that it doesn't collect a lot of data to "understand every detail about your life." Cook said "that's not the business we're in," leaving the comparison to Apple's biggest rival unsaid.

Cook says Apple's view on privacy is based on values, not commercial interest

Siegel forced Cook to clarify further, pointing out that your purchase history for apps, music, and movies bought on the App Store and iTunes will guide Apple in suggesting similar items. "We think customers are fine with that," Cook said, "but what they don't want is for your email to be read, then to pick up on keywords in your email, and to use that information to market you things on a different application."

Cook also made the case for US tax reform, a change that he said would help Apple bring its huge overseas earnings — quoted by Siegel as more than $180 billion — back into the United States. The interview closes with the host asking Cook about his company's plans for an Apple car. Cook maintained his evasive stance on the matter, saying that while he had read a lot about the new wave of electric and self-driving cars, his company was focused on its new products. Siegel tried once again, but Cook stayed strong, closing the interview by simply asking "do you have another question?"