What the Tech? Group FaceTime and always listening microphones
Apple is turning off a fairly popular feature on iPhones and iPads that allows up to 32 people to chat at the same time in the same window.
Group FaceTime allowed someone to listen in on a conversation, without the other person knowing about.
It calls into question how secure are the microphones in the devices we have with us all the time.
In my office here, I have an Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, voice-controlled TV remote, Google Chromecast, Amazon Firestick, security cameras and smartphones. What do they have in common? They all have microphones that listen to everything I say.
"We see listening microphones everywhere in modern day life, and people may not even be aware that they're there." Morey Haber, CTO of the security firm BeyondTrust told me.
He said these devices are always listening for the action keyword, which means they're always listening to everything we say. If that worries you, he says make changes in settings.
"If you want to be perfectly safe with those devices, most have a microphone off button," Haber said.
That means No more "Hey Siri", or "Alexa..."
If you want to do that, to turn off FaceTime, go to settings and you'll see the option under "FaceTime." To turn off Siri, go to settings, Siri and "listen for Hey Siri." You can use the side button instead. The iPhone won't listen for the keyword, at least Apple says it won't.
On an Alexa device, you can turn off the mic by pressing a button. It won't listen to anything unless you get up and press the button again.
Haber agrees that isn't what we bought these devices for in the first place, so he suggests this:
"I'd recommend they use the privacy mode or turn off the microphone in cases where there is sensitive dialogue, business meetings or even when there is personal time at home," Haber said.
If you have one of these Alexa devices or a Google Chromecast, you know how sensitive they are with microphones around the whole device. If turned on, they will listen all the time.
Do you opt for convenience? Or privacy?
Haber said what makes the group FaceTime bug so disturbing, is that it was so easy to use. It isn't known when the problem started, but it was discovered Monday.