- Apple has not been linked to Russian political ads, the way companies like Google and Facebook have been.
- But Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn't think ads are the main issue anyway.
- Instead, he thinks misinformation and "fake news to broad numbers of people" are more important issues.
Apple CEO Tim Cook thinks Google and Facebook are facing a much bigger and more dangerous problem than ads placed by Russia-linked groups during last year's election.
Those companies, as well as several other big tech firms not including Apple, are under scrutiny for how their systems were allegedly exploited last year by Russia in an attempt to influence the election. But the focus on Russia-linked ads misses the big picture, Cook said in an interview on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. The much bigger problem is how these networks can and are being exploited to spread misinformation and propaganda generally — not just during election season.
"I don't believe that the big issue are ads from foreign governments. I believe that's like 0.1% of the issue," Cook said. "The bigger issue is that some of these tools are used to divide people, to manipulate people, to get fake news to people in broad numbers, and so to influence their thinking."
He added "This, to me, is the number one-through-ten issue."
Cook's interview came on the same day that leaders from Google, Twitter, and Facebook testified to Congress about alleged Russian political interference. Those and several other big tech companies are under fire following revelations that Russia-linked agents bought online advertisements that they used to target Americans with divisive political messages.
Apple does not run a substantial advertising business, so it has dodged many of the questions that other big tech companies have faced.
Microsoft's head of communications was a fan of Cook's answer:
Cook also used his appearance on NBC to push for tax reform.
Apple has an enormous amount of money — $261.5 billion — in cash and marketable securities, of which 94% is stashed overseas. Cook sees the current tax reform effort in Congress, which is almost certain to lower the taxes corporations pay on their foreign profits, as a opportunity to bring some of that money back to the United States.
"The biggest issue for corporations in this country is if you earn money outside the United States, which most companies increasingly will," Cook told NBC. "It's taxed in those countries, by the way, the only way you can bring it into the US and invest, is if you pay 40%, for us."
"This is kind of a crazy thing to do. So what do people do? They don't bring it to the United States. It's not good for investment in the U.S. And so this needs to be fixed. In my view, it should have been fixed years ago. But let's get it done now," Cook continued.
House Republicans are currently in negotations over a tax reform bill that President Trump reportedly wanted to call the "Cut Cut Cut Cut Act."
Washington policy makers have been wrestling for years with how to handle taxes on foreign earnings. Congress enacted a so-called tax holiday in 2004 to encourage companies to repatriate their overseas cash, with the idea that the money would be used to invest in the US and hire workers. But the move reportedly cost the US Treasury billions of dollars, and many of the companies that took advantage of it ended up laying off workers.
Meanwhile, Apple and other tech companies have been under fire for years for using various schemes to reduce their claimed tax liabilities in the US and overseas. Apple in particular has been forced to pay back taxes in Italy and Japan, and is in a dispute with Europe over a massive tax bill in Ireland.
Here are the clips from the interview with NBC:
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