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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Apple's Cook calls for internet humanity at China cyber event

Comments come at World Internet Conference - an event designed to globally promote the country’s vision of a more censored and controlled internet

Apple chief executive Tim Cook arrives at the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China. Aly Song/Reuters
Apple chief executive Tim Cook arrives at the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China. Aly Song/Reuters

The Apple chief executive Tim Cook has called for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity.

Mr Cook made the comments on Sunday at the opening ceremony for China’s World Internet Conference - an event designed to globally promote the country’s vision of a more censored and controlled internet. It’s the second Chinese appearance in two months for the executive, who met with the president Xi Jinping in October.

“The theme of this conference - developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits - is a vision we at Apple share,” Mr Cook said. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace."

Mr Cook’s comments come at a pivotal point for the company’s future in China, which is now its biggest market outside of North America. It relies on the sale of hardware and services in the world’s most populated country to propel revenue and profit growth.

Developers using its App Store platform in China number 1.8 million and have earned a total of US16.93 billion, representing about a quarter of total global App Store earnings.

Earlier this year, Apple said that developers had earned about $70bn in total revenue through the store.

Apple is facing criticism from local users and rights groups for bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators after it decided to remove hundreds of apps from its Chinese store this year, including messaging apps and virtual private network (VPN) services, which help users subvert China's Great Firewall.

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Apple is hoping to regain momentum following the release of its iPhone 8 and iPhone X models which shipped in November. It said earlier it had moved its Chinese cloud data onto the servers of a local partner in the Chinese province of Guizhou.

Mr Cook said Apple’s operations began three decades ago with a handful of employees. Today, it helps support more than 5 million jobs in China, he added.

“Much has been said of the potential downsides of AI, but I don’t worry about machines thinking like humans. I worry about people thinking like machines,” he said. “We all have to work to infuse technology with humanity, with our values.”

Technology of the future should have openness, creativity and safeguards to protect users while providing privacy and decency, he added.

It’s a goal that, according to Mr Cook’s Chinese hosts, can only be accomplished through more laws and regulations that control what can be shared online. The politburo member Wang Huning called for a global emergency response team that would respond in times of crisis using new and undetermined measures.

“What we propose is we should promote a controllable security and build a new order,” Wang said through a translator. “Cybersecurity is a serious challenge. Cyber crimes and cyber terrorism has grown more rampant. The world’s destiny has become more intertwined in cyberspace.”

In a bid to waylay fears of increasing censorship, Mr Xi said on Sunday the country will not close its door to the global internet, but that cyber sovereignty is key in its vision of internet development.

"The development of China's cyberspace is entering a fast lane...China's doors will only become more and more open," said Mr Xi.