Apple may value user privacy more than the other tech giants, but even they aren’t immune to issues that compromise that privacy.
In late January, a FaceTime group chat error let users hear audio from the person at the other end before they’d picked up. In some cases, the device also broadcast video. The audio and video functions were enabled early, in other words, making for an unintentional – but still very embarrassing – mistake on Apple’s part!
A bug in the system
Your cool fact for the day: the root of the term “bug” comes from the early days of computing; real bugs would crawl into the original hole-punch-style computers from the mid-20th century, end up squashed over a hole, and screw up the programming.
We now use the expression “bug” to refer to any unintentional software error.
This FaceTime mistake was introduced in a software update, and only discovered recently.
Working out a fix
Intentions mean a lot – we know, at least, that this malfunction wasn’t perpetrated by a nation state or criminal group; it’s a bug, not a deliberate hack.
On Monday, Apple said it was working on a software patch to solve the problem. They’d disabled the group chat functionality – meaning users could still chat one-on-one and their FaceTime app would still work – and Apple promised to push out an update to Mac and iOS devices to fix the flaw. On Friday, they apologized for the error.
Do you really need to cover your webcam?
A good way to nip this kind of privacy issue in the bud is to cover the camera on your laptop, tablet and phone, either with a quick solution like electrical tape, or with an adhesive or attachable device specifically made to cover webcams. These cheap, quick options could save you a lot of hassle in the long run and give you some peace of mind.
Of course, this type of glitch is not specific to FaceTime. There are plenty of good reasons to cover that cam: other pieces of malware and hacks have surfaced that are able to turn cameras on – affecting Macs and PCs – without activating the camera lights to tip you off that they’re functioning.
Another thing you can do is go into your phone and turn off FaceTime for now until the proper security update is pushed out.
As always, for the sake of your own privacy, remember that no tech is immune to human error!