Apple FaceTime eavesdropping glitch was discovered last week

A serious flaw in Apple’s FaceTime application has gone viral on social media. First discovered by 9to5Mac, the bug allows callers to hear audio from the recipient’s iOS device while the iPhone is still ringing, or even when the call has been declined.

Under some circumstances, the FaceTime bug also activates the receiving iPhone’s camera before the call has been answered, allowing callers to see what is happening at the other end without the receiver noticing.

Update: The latest reporting on Apple's FaceTime eavesdropping glitch notes that the company was warned about this problem last week via the mother of a US teen who discovered it while playing a game (obviously Fortnite). 

Since the publication of our original story, Apple has temporarily disabled Group FaceTime and sent TechRadar the following statement:  “We’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week.” 

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The TechRadar team was able to replicate this bug – we used an iPhone X to call users with an iPhone 8 and an iPhone XS Max, but this bug can be activated on any Apple handset running iOS 12 or above, with MacRumors confirming the bug can be replicated on MacOS Mojave as well. 

Image: Apple

Image: Apple

Unfortunately, it was surprisingly easy to eavesdrop on the caller. This is how it worked: you video call another iPhone user via FaceTime, then swipe up to open the menu options before the call has been answered. Add your own number or Apple ID as another caller and FaceTime assumes a conference call has been initiated. 

This automatically activates the receiver’s mic, giving you access to audio even if the handset is still ringing or if the call has been rejected by the person you are calling.

If the receiver happens to use the power button to decline the call, it activates the receiving device’s camera, allowing you to watch what is happening at the other end.

This is, quite obviously, a massive privacy issue and one the Cupertino firm is keen to fix straight away. In the meantime, Apple has temporarily disabled Group FaceTime calls.

Sharmishta Sarkar
Managing Editor (APAC)

Sharmishta is TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor and loves all things photography, something she discovered while chasing monkeys in the wilds of India (she studied to be a primatologist but has since left monkey business behind). While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, she's also an avid reader and has become a passionate proponent of ereaders, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about the convenience of these underrated devices. When she's not testing camera kits or the latest in e-paper tablets, she's discovering the joys and foibles of smart home gizmos. She's also the Australian Managing Editor of Digital Camera World and, if that wasn't enough, she contributes to T3 and Tom's Guide, while also working on two of Future's photography print magazines Down Under.