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.” 

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)

While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, Sharmishta's main priority is being TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor, looking after the day-to-day functioning of the Australian, New Zealand and Singapore editions of the site, steering everything from news and reviews to ecommerce content like deals and coupon codes. While she loves reviewing cameras and lenses when she can, she's also an avid reader and has become quite the expert on ereaders and E Ink writing tablets, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about these underrated devices. Other than her duties at TechRadar, she's also the Managing Editor of the Australian edition of Digital Camera World, and writes for Tom's Guide and T3.