On the 28th of January, 2019, Apple’s FaceTime users would have heard about a newly discovered bug. This bug in iOS could allow others to eavesdrop on your microphone or your camera. In fact, it allows the callers to listen in before you even accept the call.
Quite scary right?
But don’t worry. Apple has announced on the 29th of January that it has disabled the group calling feature as a whole. The service will remain closed till Apple fixes this bug completely.
What was this bug?
The bug lets you call anyone with FaceTime, and immediately hear the audio coming from their phone — before the person on the other end has accepted or rejected the incoming call. Basically, it will look like in the UI like the other person has joined the group chat, but on their actual device it will still be ringing on the Lock screen.
The bug relies on what appears to be a nasty logic screwup in FaceTime’s group call system. While we’re opting to not outline the steps here; the bug seems to trick the recipient’s phone into thinking a group call is already ongoing. A few quick taps, and FaceTime immediately trips over itself; and inexplicably fires up the recipient’s microphone without them actually accepting the call.
If the recipient presses the volume down button or the power button to try to silence or dismiss the call, their camera turns on as well. Though the recipient’s phone display continues showing the incoming call screen, their microphone/camera are streaming.
More Insight –
Apple’s response to this bug –
A spokesperson for the company responded:-
“We’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week.”
Apple’s status page shows that group calling via FaceTime is “temporarily unavailable” — that’s a stop-gap move while the company to deliver a more permanent fix to the problem this week.
Problems prior and during the launch of FaceTime on Apple devices –
It’s interesting to note that the group calling feature actually took longer than planned to arrive in iOS follow a hiccup. It was added then removed from the beta version of iOS 12 in August while it took time to roll out to all users. The feature was absent when iOS 12 shipped to all in September and, instead, it arrived with the launch of iOS 12.1 in October. Apple never provided a reason for the delay.
The bug is an embarrassing incident for Apple, which has long emphasized its focus on privacy as a business and within its products. That included a recent banner at CES which triumphantly proclaimed: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”
Hence, to be on the safer side, you must manually disable the FaceTime feature from your devices; until things get a bit better. Also, probably after this incident, many would refuse or hesitate to use FaceTime altogether; and this could harm the company in a big way.