The ability to hold group video calls in Apple’s FaceTime app was no doubt a welcome addition when iOS 12.1 launched back in October. But a major flaw surfaced this week, leading Apple to completely pull the Group FaceTime feature offline from the server side.
As 9to5Mac reported yesterday, a bug in the FaceTime app allowed anyone to eavesdrop on another FaceTime user through their iPhone simply by initiating a Group video call — the recipient didn’t need to answer the call for their audio to be broadcast.
The bug, while perhaps not immediately obvious to the average user, could be replicated by starting a FaceTime call with any iPhone contact and then adding your own phone number in the “Add Person” field, which is how a group call is initiated. Before the original recipient answered their phone, the caller could hear all the audio from the iPhone’s location. This bug was also replicated using an iPhone to call a Mac, which, as one writer noted, is potentially more serious, as the recipient is more likely to be away from their machine for extended periods.
An additional bug was subsequently found, one which broadcast the call recipient’s video when they hit their power or volume button from the lock screen to dismiss the call.
It’s not entirely clear how long these bugs have been around — quite possibly since Group FaceTime was rolled out to everyone at the end of October.
Apple originally said this bug would be fixed in an upcoming software update, but as Apple’s System Status page notes, the feature has now been pulled offline from its servers pending the software update expected later this week.
While group video calls from mobile phones may have limited appeal to some, due to the restricted screen real estate, the feature has been an increasingly popular element of messaging apps in recent years. Skype has supported group video calls in its mobile apps for several years, while Facebook Messenger rolled out support for group video chat two years ago and WhatsApp added support for group video calls last summer.
Apple was originally scheduled to add group video calls to FaceTime as part of iOS 12 but pushed the feature back to iOS 12.1 — presumably because it wasn’t deemed ready. As things have transpired, Apple might have done well to spend a little more time testing the group calling functionality before rolling it out.