(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. customers discovered a software bug that lets people listen in on other users by way of the company’s FaceTime video chat service in one of the biggest privacy-related problems faced by the company.
The bug allows a user to call someone on FaceTime and automatically begin hearing the other person before they pick up the call. The other person isn’t aware that the caller can hear them. The bug, confirmed by Bloomberg News, happens when a user creates a FaceTime conference call, puts in their phone number, and then adds the number of another person. The flaw also allows video to be sent if the other user clicks either their power button or one of the volume controls.
Later on Monday, Apple’s system status page indicated that group FaceTime was temporarily unavailable, indicating that Apple disabled the flaw remotely. The company, which attracted criticism from business and political leaders, said earlier on Monday that it would release a software update "later this week" to fix the bug. Users can also disable FaceTime on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches in settings and on the Mac under the Preferences tab in the FaceTime application.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the “FaceTime bug is an egregious breach of privacy that puts New Yorkers at risk.” He’s concerned the flaw could be “exploited for unscrupulous purposes.”
The bug emerged on Data Privacy Day when Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook called for "action and reform for vital privacy protections." Cook, along with Apple as a whole, has pushed its pro-privacy stance and functionality for months as rivals like Facebook Inc. suffered from user data breaches.
"Apple has a pristine privacy record, so the FaceTime bug is noteworthy and a small etback," Loup Ventures co-founder Gene Munster said. "Even with the bug, Apple is still the most trusted tech company when it comes to privacy."
Apple added multi-person FaceTime calling at the end of last year via a software update that was, in part, designed to address previous software bugs.