Apple CEO Tim Cook has spent the past several years positioning the company as a champion of user privacy, but he’s now facing questions regarding Apple’s ongoing browser collaboration with Google — a company Cook previously called out for gathering user data “for God knows what advertising purpose.” The multi-billion-dollar Apple-Google deal was one of several major points raised in a televised interview with Axios at the company’s Apple Park campus.

Asked how Apple could accept billions of dollars from Google to make the latter’s search engine the default across iOS and macOS versions of the Safari browser, Cook suggested that Apple’s own privacy protections mitigated the potential threats:

I think their search engine is the best. Look at what we’ve done with the controls we’ve built in. We have private web browsing, we have intelligent tracker prevention. What we’ve tried to do is come up with ways to help our users through their course of the day. It’s not a perfect thing — I’d be the first person to say that — but it goes a long way to helping.

Reports have pegged the annual value of the Apple-Google deal at over a billion dollars, most recently around $3 billion per year for Apple, while generating roughly 50 percent of Google’s mobile search revenue. The deal routes virtually every search request performed through Safari — and many searches performed by Siri — through Google’s servers by default. A lightly hidden Settings option lets Safari users switch to Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo search engines instead of Google.

Despite the deal with Google, Cook once again described user privacy as “a core value of ours,” noting that the company’s desire to protect privacy predated the iPhone and caused Apple to avoid gathering all of the “incredible intelligence about you” stored on devices. Prior to Cook’s tenure, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs described privacy in 2010 as a matter of clearly and repeatedly telling users what was being done with their data and offering them the ability to agree — a position that was immediately contrasted with the growing social media giant Facebook, and other unnamed tech giants.

In recent months, Cook and his deputies have made numerous public statements regarding the company’s privacy stances, including calls for a clear U.S. federal privacy law similar to Europe’s recently enforced GDPR. Continuing that theme, Cook told Axios that the free market wasn’t working to protect user data and reaffirmed that he believed “some level of regulation” was “inevitable” as a consequence.

Cook separately suggested that Apple and Silicon Valley in general were working to improve gender inequities — an issue that the technology industry had previously “missed” — and said that he was optimistic “there will be a marked improvement over time.” Apple itself has made efforts to feature female leaders as speakers at its media events, though several of those women have subsequently left the company for other opportunities.

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