In a report that may surprise no one, it looks like Facebook’s iPhone app may be egregiously spying on you — even by the social network’s already loose privacy standards.
As reported by TNW, Twitter user Joshua Maddux recently discovered that the Facebook app on his iPhone was up to something unusual, observing that his camera was actually engaged in the background while he was simply scrolling through his Facebook feed. See it below.
The issue only came to light because of a bug in the current version of the Facebook app on iOS 13.2.2 that leaves the main feed slightly misaligned after you open a photo and then swipe down.
Maddux confirmed that he was able to duplicate the issue on five other iPhones running iOS 13.2.2, although one running iOS 12 didn’t show the camera, since the timeline stays where it’s supposed to in that case, although of course that doesn’t mean the camera isn’t still being activated.
TNW was also able to independently reproduce the issue, which doesn’t appear to affect devices running iOS 13.1.3 either. TNW also notes that it’s been unable to make this happen on Android 10 devices, although again the same caveat applies — just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t still watching.
To be fair, the most likely explanation for this — and the one that Facebook is almost sure to offer anyway — is that it’s simply a bug, but the fact that Facebook is enabling the iPhone camera at all in situations where it shouldn’t be is more than a bit distressing for a company with a particularly horrendous track record on user privacy.
It’s also unclear what Facebook might actually be doing with the camera. The most innocuous explanation, which is likely if this is simply an unintentional bug, is that Facebook is simply turning the camera on, but not recording or transmitting any information from it, in which case the issue, while creepy, is mostly harmless. However, there’s no easy way of ruling out that Facebook could be transmitting whatever the camera is seeing — either as a whole stream or as intermittent snapshots — back to its own servers for “analysis.”
How Do I Block This?
Fortunately, Apple itself is one of the most privacy-conscious companies out there, so it provides its own controls that even Facebook hasn’t figured out a way to override.
In short, this is only a problem if you’ve given Facebook access to your camera at the iOS level. If not, then Facebook won’t be able to turn it on or see anything through it. However, if you’ve already enabled this, you can still very easily turn it off:
- Open the iPhone Settings app
- Scroll down and tap Privacy
- Tap Camera
- Find the entry for Facebook and tap the switch beside it to turn it off.
While you’re here, you may also want to take a look at the other apps that you’ve given access to your iPhone camera; any iOS app that has this access could be secretly recording you, and unlike your MacBook, the iPhone and iPad don’t include an indicator LED to let you know when the camera is on.
In the case of Facebook, disabling camera access may be a slight inconvenience, as you’ll no longer be able to take pictures, record videos, or live stream directly in the Facebook app. In the first two cases, however, you can still snap photos or record videos using the standard iPhone Camera app and then simply upload them to Facebook from your camera roll.
As a more extreme measure, you could always follow the advice of former FBI director James Comey and put a piece of tape over your camera. While this may seem paranoid, the fact that Mark Zuckerberg himself tapes over his webcam should be enough to make you think.