Apple CEO Tim Cook talks protecting customers' private data, limiting screen time: 'You are not our product'

PHOTO: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, sat down with ABC News Diane Sawyer to discuss the importance of digital privacy, kids relationship with tech and more.PlayABC News
WATCH Family takes us into their home to show how much time is spent on screens: Part 1

Apple CEO Tim Cook is worried – about the protection of personal data, kids’ relationships with their devices, and the amount of time consumers are spending on devices.

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In an exclusive interview, Cook told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that Apple is working hard to promote increased regulation of the use and storage of consumer data, empower parents to control their kids’ relationship with devices and enable customers to be more aware of how much time they’re spending on their phones.

He explained why he doesn’t want customers to use Apple products too much and why, and shares his take on children’s usage of devices.

‘We’ve never had a goal for you to use your iPhone a lot’

About a year ago, Apple started telling users how much time they spend on their devices.

“We make money if we can convince you to buy an iPhone… but I don't want you using the product a lot,” Cook said. “What we want to build are products ... to enrich your life. … Do something you couldn't do without it. … That’s what gets us excited.”

Cook said he was surprised at how much even he picked up his phone – “around 200” times a day.

“I would have guessed less than half” of that amount, he said.

Even still, Cook said, it hasn’t spurned him to use less screen time. He said he had changed his notification habits.

PHOTO: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, sat down with ABC News Diane Sawyer to discuss the importance of digital privacy, kids relationship with tech and more. ABC News
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, sat down with ABC News' Diane Sawyer to discuss the importance of digital privacy, kids' relationship with tech and more.

Online privacy crisis: ‘This is fixable’

The Apple executive said that while growing up, “one of the worst things, other than… something like hurting somebody or something, was the Peeping Tom. You know, somebody looking in the window.”

“The people who track on the internet know a lot more about you than if somebody's looking in your window. A lot more,” he said.

Cook said he believes that online privacy in our society has become a major issue but believes “This is fixable.”

“Like we've done every other point in time, when we get together it's amazing what we can do,” he said.

Cook said that Apple is an “ally” in that fight to protect consumers’ personal information.

“You are not our product,” he said about the more than a billion consumers who use Apple products. “Our products are iPhone and iPads. We treasure your data. We want to help you, keep it private and keep it secure. We’re on your side.”

In an op-ed published in Time Magazine in January, Cook wrote that he was calling on Congress to pass “comprehensive federal privacy legislation — a landmark package of reforms that protect and empower the consumer.”

In his proposal, he outlined four principles he believes the law should protect: the right to have personal data collected by companies minimized; the right to knowledge about what data is being collected and why; the right to access, correct and delete personal data; and the right to data security.

Parenting in the age of smart devices: ‘A fix is defined differently for you and me and everyone’

Cook also addressed the worries of parents concerned with the amount of time their children are spending on their devices and what long-term effects that screen time could have.

Half of all parents say they’re worried their children are actually becoming addicted to their gadgets, according to an online poll by Common Sense and Survey Monkey.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, sat down with ABC News Diane Sawyer to discuss the importance of digital privacy, kids relationship with tech and more. ABC
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, sat down with ABC News' Diane Sawyer to discuss the importance of digital privacy, kids' relationship with tech and more.

Ultimately, Cook said, it’s up to the parent to decide when and how much their child is on a device.

“What we're trying to do is give the parent the controls,” he said. “There's no standard for parenting, as we both know. People have different views about what should be allowed and not,” he said.

He said his company is working on ways to empower parents to control their child’s access including creating age limits for apps as well as parental approval for apps, and labeling music with explicit lyrics.

“A fix is defined differently for you and I and everyone. … You know, what might be reasonable for me might be totally unreasonable for my neighbor.”

As for parents with suggestions for Cook, he said he welcomed emails. (You can email him at tcook@apple.com)

“I get notes from parents all the time,” he said. “They have great ideas. And I'm sure there will be more things that we will do.”