Apple recruits prominent Facebook critic for privacy team

Sandy Parakilas worked at social network before becoming a vocal opponent

Apple has recruited Sandy Parakilas to work in its privacy team as a product manager. Photograph: Reuters

Apple has recruited Sandy Parakilas to work in its privacy team as a product manager. Photograph: Reuters

 

A former Facebook employee who became one of the social network’s most prominent critics has been recruited by Apple.

Sandy Parakilas monitored software developers’ privacy and policy compliance at Facebook for a year and a half before he left the social network in October 2012. At the time, he warned senior executives of the potentially damaging consequences of the company’s data-sharing policies, but felt his concerns were downplayed.

Last year, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he gave evidence to the UK parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee, telling MPs that Facebook’s data protection practices were “far outside the bounds of what should have been allowed” between 2010 and 2014.

Mr Parakilas has urged the tech industry to improve its data protection practices, increase the use of encrypted messaging and “verify the truth of statements that can be viewed by millions of people”.

“We now live in a world where racist demagogues and their dictator buddies can cynically exploit our tools to seize power,” he wrote in a blog post in late 2016. “There is no such thing as a ‘neutral platform’. Facebook, Twitter and Google all profited from this perversion of democracy.”

His move to Apple marks the latest attempt by the iPhone maker to differentiate itself from Silicon Valley rivals such as Facebook, Google and Amazon over data protection and privacy.

After leaving Facebook, Mr Parakilas spent almost four years at Uber before joining the Centre for Humane Technology, a campaign group that advocates for tougher regulations for tech companies and encourages “time well spent” online, as its chief strategy officer.

Apple has recruited Mr Parakilas to work in its privacy team as a product manager, according to people familiar with the hire. His internal-facing role within Apple’s product marketing organisation will involve working with teams all over the iPhone maker, to ensure that new products in development protect users’ privacy and minimise data collection.

Apple declined to comment on staffing matters. Mr Parakilas did not respond to requests for comment.

Selling point

From fighting the FBI in court to avoid compromising the iPhone’s encryption to blocking Facebook’s trackers in its Safari web browser, Apple has made privacy a key selling point of its pricey devices in recent years.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has not held back in taking swipes at his opposite number at Facebook. Asked in an MSNBC television interview last March what he would do if he was Mark Zuckerberg after revelations that Cambridge Analytica exposed data belonging to tens of millions of Facebook users, Mr Cook said he “wouldn’t be in this situation”.

“We reject the notion that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy,” Mr Cook said during a commencement speech at Duke University last year. “So we choose a different path, collecting as little of your data as possible.”

Most rival smartphones to the iPhone run Google’s Android operating system, for which many apps have been found to transfer personal information back to Google and other third parties.

A study by Privacy International last month found that popular Android apps including TripAdvisor and MyFitnessPal sent data to Facebook even before they had asked users for permission to do so.

Apple has also sought to limit the amount of data that is transferred from its devices when interacting with its Siri virtual assistant, in contrast with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, which rely on the cloud to answer requests and default to storing users’ questions.

Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home are front and centre at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. In response, Apple has purchased a billboard advertisement close to the main CES venue poking its rivals over their handling of customers’ personal information. The poster, which is pasted over about a dozen storeys of a hotel close to the Las Vegas Convention Centre, bears the slogan: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019