Firefox on Android: Camera remains active when phone is locked or the user switches apps

Mozilla says it will fix the bug later this year, in October.

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Mozilla says it's working on fixing a bug in Firefox for Android that keeps the smartphone camera active even after users have moved the browser in the background or the phone screen was locked.

A Mozilla spokesperson told ZDNet in an email this week that a fix is expected for later this year in October.

The bug was first spotted and reported to Mozilla a year ago, in July 2019, by an employee of video delivery platform Appear TV.

The bug manifests when users chose to video stream from a website loaded in Firefox instead of a native app.

Mobile users often choose to stream from a mobile browser for privacy reasons, such as not wanting to install an intrusive app and grant it unfettered access to their smartphone's data. Mobile browsers are better because they prevent websites from accessing smartphone data, keeping their data collection to a minimum.

The Appear TV developer noticed that Firefox video streams kept going, even in situations when they should have normally stopped.

While this raises issues with streams continuing to consume the user's bandwidth, the bug was also deemed a major privacy issue as Firefox would continue to stream from the user's device in situations where the user expected privacy by switching to another app or locking the device.

"From our analysis, a website is allowed to retain access to your camera or microphone whilst you're using other apps, or even if the phone is locked," a spokesperson for Traced, a privacy app, told ZDNet, after alerting us to the issue.

"While there are times you might want the microphone or video to keep working in the background, your camera should never record you when your phone is locked," Traced added.

Mozilla promises to fix issue later this year

"As is the case with dedicated conferencing apps, we provide a system notification that lets people know when a website within Firefox is accessing the camera or microphone, but recognize that we can do better, especially since this gets hidden when the screen is locked," a Mozilla spokesperson told ZDNet this week when asked about the root cause of the bug.

"This bug [fix] aims to address this by defaulting to audio-only when the screen is locked," Mozilla said. "[The fix] is scheduled for release at the platform-level this October, and for consumers shortly after."

"Meanwhile, our next-generation browser for Android, now available for testing as Firefox Nightly, already has a prominent notification for when sites access this hardware as well," Mozilla added.

Firefox Nightly, also codenamed Fenix, is expected to replace the current Firefox for Android version when it exists its development stage. Mozilla devs focused Fenix development on privacy features.