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Pallone & Schakowsky Probe Apple Group FaceTime Bug

Feb 5, 2019
Press Release
“The serious privacy issue with Group FaceTime demonstrates how these devices can also become the ultimate spying machines”

Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky  (D-IL) sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook today requesting more information about when the company first learned of the security flaw in its Group FaceTime feature, the extent to which the flaw has compromised consumers’ privacy and whether there are other undisclosed bugs that currently exist and have not been addressed.

Pallone and Schakowsky are particularly concerned with the privacy implications of the Group FaceTime bug in a world where smartphones and smart home devices, equipped with cameras and microphones, are used by nearly every adult and many children.

“While these are wonderful tools when used right, the serious privacy issue with Group FaceTime demonstrates how these devices can also become the ultimate spying machines.  That is why it is critical that companies like Apple are held to the highest standards,” Pallone and Schakowsky wrote to Cook.  “Your company and others must proactively ensure devices and applications protect consumer privacy, immediately act when a vulnerability is identified, and address any harm caused when you fail to meet your obligations to consumers.”

Pallone and Schakowsky are also troubled by how long it took for Apple to address the significant privacy violation, which was apparently identified by Grant Thompson, a 14-year-old boy.  The bug allowed users to access a person’s iPhone camera and speaker before they even picked up the Group FaceTime call.

“As a first step, we believe it is important for Apple to be transparent about its investigation into the Group FaceTime vulnerability and the steps it is taking to protect consumers’ privacy,” Pallone and Schakowsky continued.  “To date, we do not believe Apple has been as transparent as this serious issue requires.”  

The Committee Chairs requested written responses to a series of questions by no later than February 19, 2019, including:

  • When did your company first identify the Group FaceTime vulnerability that enabled individuals to access the camera and microphone of devices before accepting a FaceTime call?  Did your company identify the vulnerability before being notified by Mr. Thompson’s mother?  Did any other customer notify Apple of the vulnerability?
  • Please provide a timeline of exactly what steps were taken and when they were taken to address the vulnerability after it was initially identified.
  • What steps are being taken to identify which FaceTime users’ privacy interests were violated using the vulnerability?  Does Apple intend to notify and compensate those consumers for the violation?  When will Apple provide notification to affected consumers?
  • Are there other vulnerabilities in Apple devices and applications that currently or potentially could result in unauthorized access to microphones and/or cameras? 

The letter is available HERE.