Apple CEO Cook on Health Records privacy: I want to ‘deeply trust’ the ‘people that have my health data’

“The global health care industry is expected to reach $10 trillion by 2022. That’s bigger than the economy of any country other than the United States and China. Amazon, Google and Microsoft are among the companies vying for a piece of that pie in areas such as retail pharmacies, using artificial intelligence for disease detection and healthy-living apps,” Laura Sydell reports for NPR. “And so is Apple.”

“The company has been innovating and expanding its presence in health care. It’s an area where the company’s long-held privacy values may give it an edge over the competition — if it can hold up to the growing public scrutiny,” Sydell reports. “Putting health records into an app created by a big tech company requires trust. Those records could list medications taken, treatments for diseases and visits to mental health care providers. That’s not the kind of information most people want an employer, advertiser or insurance company to see.”

“Apple CEO Tim Cook has been a vocal advocate for privacy rights. Most recently, he has spoken out against rival companies Google and Facebook for making money off user data to sell ads,” Sydell reports. “In an interview with NPR, Cook says acquiring user data to sell ads is something his company has avoided. ‘People will look at this and feel that they can trust Apple,’ he says. ‘That’s a key part of anyone that you’re working with on your health.’ Cook says Apple’s commitment to privacy isn’t simply a marketing ploy. “It’s not the way we look at it in terms of advantages,’ he says. ‘The reality is that I know for me, I want to do business with people that have my health data, people that I deeply trust.'”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Cook is playing the long game here, betting that someday the great unwashed will wake up and begin to value the privacy that only Apple can provide. Of course, today, they’re all giving their personal data away to Google and Facebook while mailing off their DNA samples (and paying for the privilege, no less) to only God knows who, so that’s quite the bet.

On big problem is highlighted in this NPR report:

But Apple has far from a perfect track record when it comes to privacy. At a time of heightened scrutiny of all tech companies and their privacy records, the Wall Street Journal has found that several top health and fitness apps available for iPhones send personal information, such as data about heart rates and menstrual cycles, to Facebook.

Of course, we all know that one has nothing to do with the other, but they both “happen on iPhone” so the average Joe and Jane are naturally going to conflate the two. That’s going to hurt Apple’s privacy reputation. Apple doesn’t have full control here. They have given third-parties access via the App Store and any bad actor can hurt Apple’s privacy reputation (and they will), warranted or not.

In fact, it’s not even that farfetched to imagine an Apple competitor (especially those gunning for control of users’ health data) signing up to develop iOS apps and trying to get apps approved into the App Store that are designed to hurt Apple’s privacy reputation. The App Store is an attack vector. Apple’s App Store vetting process needs work and Cook would be smart to double down on the review process, to make sure apps do what they say and nothing else.

Well, hopefully Cook’s bet pays off big someday!

Apple is betting big on the $7 trillion healthcare space, with its own devices the key – February 21, 2019
Apple is so serious about health, Apple Stores have started hosting heart-health events – February 12, 2019
Apple’s health records work with the VA is a big deal, and not just for veterans – February 11, 2019
Apple announces Health Records feature coming to American veterans – February 11, 2019
Apple job openings for health-related positions up 400% since 2017 – January 17, 2019
Apple’s digital health plan puts the iPhone and Apple Watch at the heart of your wellbeing – January 16, 2019
Apple’s next really big thing: Health – January 9, 2019
Study shows active Apple Watch users gain extra years of life – November 28, 2018
Apple’s profound iPhone plans for healthcare – June 15, 2017
Apple acquires Gliimpse – August 22, 2016

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]


  1. While MDN states, “Of course, one has nothing to do with the other, but they both happen on iPhone so the average Joe and Jane are going to conflate the two.”, this is an incorrect statement.

    Apple controls the platform. Apple has responsibility for how data flows through that platform especially if the data flow happens without user knowledge.

    Apple, through the App Store can and should require that all applications that send data, any data, to a third party ask for explicit permission to do so or not do so at all. (Personally, I think the applications should tell the user that it’s going to send data anywhere.) This can be an absolute requirement to have your application listed within the App Store. Period. Apple could even require those applications to have periodic re-approval, say once a month or once every three months.

    Apple can set it up so that users of Apple products have absolute and clear control of where each user’s data goes. Apple has long proclaimed that the greatest benefit of Apple doing both the hardware and software is that this gives Apple the ability to control the end-to-end experience and provide users with the best experience. Apple needs to step up and do this.

    1. Disclaimer: My comment is from a guy who is known not to blindly trust whatever Cook says.

      Personal health data is the most sacred areas of the privacy, yet some of the products, by Apple or not, collect a vast amount of health data, and could even transmit it to physicians etc. This is a treasure trove of the data mining asset and I just cannot trust the present Apple to preserve and secure the personal health data they acquire.
      Yes, far more explicit commitment by Apple that the collected data would not be used in any form or shape without explicit consent by the users of the Apple products. Cook highlights and emphasizes Apple’s commitment to privacy as if it is far superior to the other. But so far, it appears a marketing buzz word. We still do not know, and Apple doe not disclose in any concrete pieces of evidence why Apple should be considered a rock-solid fortress of the privacy.

      1. I’m all for the betterment of the health through the usage of the technology and recognize the usefulness of the gadgets carried by individuals every day, one of the best platforms for this particular area.
        Aggregated data, for example, are less private and could be used for the statistical data etc, but it does not at all mean that whoever collected the data could use it automatically and freely. Also, the third party app developers who use Apple’s platform should be strictly monitored and controlled.
        I guess what I am saying is that I am not entirely comfortable with the “transparency” aspect of whatever Apple claims and business practices, particularly under Cook. Noble SJW grandstanding all right but show me the money.

  2. The whole privacy concept is BS .

    First, there is no such thing as iron clad privacy.

    Secondly, unless Apple codes all their own Apps, or even worse, scours all source code, how can they make any Apple attributable claims regarding privacy?

    When those claims fail, who is accountable?

  3. the first line in the description of any app should list where any data from the app goes and that should be positive action to opt-in
    And I hate to say it but it ought to be a law.

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