Apple CEO Tim Cook defends Google relationship

While Facebook and Google face a reckoning over privacy, Apple has remained virtually untouched by the drama sweeping through Silicon Valley.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and US singer Lana Del Rey look at a new iPad Pro during an Apple hands-on event in One Hanson Place following a presentation at the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, New York.Justin Lane / EPA

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended his company’s relationship with Google, saying it’s “not a perfect thing” but that he believes the company has the best search engine.

During an interview with Axios that aired on HBO on Sunday, Cook, who has equated the data collection practices of other technology giants to “surveillance,” pointed to Apple’s efforts to minimize user tracking while still offering Google’s search engine.

“We have private web browsing,” Cook said. “We have an intelligent tracker prevention. What we've tried to do is come up with ways to help our users through their course of the day.”

Google currently pays Apple to serve as the default search engine for iPhone and iPads.

"It's not a perfect thing,” Cook said. “I'd be the very first person to say that. But it goes a long way to helping.”

While Facebook and Google face a reckoning over their handling of user data and privacy, Apple has remained virtually untouched by the drama sweeping through Silicon Valley.

That hasn’t stopped Apple from providing a platform and doing business with companies that have a fundamentally different approach to privacy. Facebook, a frequent Cook target, still has its full suite of apps available for download in Apple’s App Store, including a Facebook-built messaging app for kids.

Last month, in a speech given to European lawmakers in Brussels, Cook rebuked his Silicon Valley neighbors for hoarding data, which he said can be “weaponized against us with military efficiency.” He didn’t name any particular companies, but made it clear which company he was talking about.

"Every day, billions of dollars change hands and countless decisions are made on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations, our wishes and fears, our hopes and dreams,” he said.

Cook has said in the Axios interview that he thinks regulation is now “inevitable.” In March, he said Facebook should have “self-regulated” but that it was probably too late.

Apple positioned itself as a champion of user privacy long before the current public awakening. In 2016, Cook notably declined to cooperate with the FBI when authorities sought to unlock an iPhone that was part of a criminal investigation.

Apple also continues to add more privacy controls for users, including secure password management and has bolstered its intelligent tracking feature in Safari, which Apple said prevents companies from tracking users as they browse the internet.