iPhone Facetime eavesdrop bug: Now lawmakers demand answers from Apple

Apple accused of not being transparent about its response to the Group FaceTime eavesdropping bug.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked Apple to explain how it handles security bug reports, following claims it responded slowly to the FaceTime privacy glitch. 

The bug allowed FaceTime users to listen in on other users' calls even without the recipient answering the call. Apple faced criticism over claims that it had been notified of the bug by an iPhone user a week before it hit mainstream media and forced Apple to take the Group FaceTime feature offline

The bug was found by 14-year-old Grant Thompson, whose mother reported the issue to Apple, but only after several unsuccessful attempts.   

The House committee, headed up by Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ), on Tuesday sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook demanding written answers by February 19 about the company's response to the FaceTime bug.

"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," the letter states. "To date, we do not believe Apple has been as transparent as this serious issue requires."  

The committee wants to know whether Apple knew about the FaceTime bug before being notified by Thompson's mother and if so, when did it become aware of the bug. It also wants Apple to provide a timeline of steps it took after first identifying the issue. 

The lawmakers also have questions about how Apple tests its products for vulnerabilities before releasing them to the public and why Apple took so long to disable Group FaceTime after Thompson's report. 

SEE: Apple iOS 12: An insider's guide (free PDF)

The committee expects Apple to reveal whether it intends to notify and compensate consumers for any privacy violations that may have been caused by the bug. 

It also wants to know of any other undisclosed bugs that Apple has yet to address and which could similarly give unauthorized access to an iOS device's microphone or camera.    

New York state officials are also investigating the response to the FaceTime bug by Apple, which is already facing one lawsuit over the matter. 

Apple issued a statement last week explaining that it disabled Group FaceTime "as soon as our engineering team became aware of the details necessary to reproduce the bug".

However, it also promised to improve the processes it uses to escalate reports it receives.  

Apple is planning to release an iOS patch that addresses the bug this week.  

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