Group FaceTime Bug Allowed Eavesdropping


There’s Always a Bug

Apple rolled out its “Group FaceTime” feature last fall with a whimsical advertisement. It features a group of Elvis impersonators performing “There’s Always Me” through a simultaneous video chat, despite being scattered throughout the world.

What the ad didn’t show was that someone could have been spying on their conversation.

A Little Less Conversation

Apple disabled Group FaceTime on Jan. 28 following the discovery of a bug that allowed users to hear audio even if a call’s receiver didn’t answer the call. According to the AP, the bug was triggered after callers added themselves to common group chats they had initiated, making FaceTime think the receiver had answered. This video demonstrates how the flub worked. 

The bug, reportedly discovered by a 14-year-old trying to discuss the video game Fortnite with his friends, creates a bad look for Apple, which has tried to distance itself from security and privacy concerns revolving around other major tech companies (cough-Facebook-cough).

Apple is reportedly facing at least one lawsuit related to the FaceTime bug. Some security researchers have dubbed the Group Facetime fiasco as Apple’s “FacePalm.” Nice one, guys.

“Suspicion / torments my heart”

The FaceTime bug realizes the fears of tech skeptics, who for years have been expressing concerns about messaging services in tinfoil-hat blog posts. Facebook Messenger, which began offering group video chats several years before Apple, has been plagued by persistent rumors that the social media company uses the service to record conversations.

Facebook has denied the charge and security experts have explained why it’s probably not true — which isn’t to say Facebook doesn’t using any data from Messenger. This fall the company confirmed it kept call and texting logs for millions of the services’ users through Android phone, claiming they harvested the data to help users “find and stay connected with the people [they] care about.” (So definitely for totally selfless, disinterested purposes…).

Suspicious Minds

Apple engineers are reportedly working on a software update that would fix the FaceTime bug. For the relaunch advertisement, perhaps Apple’s Elvis impersonators could perform “Suspicious Minds.”

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