Facebook was quick to reassure iPhone users this week that it wasn’t secretly spying on them via its app, after someone found the software keeping the phone’s rear camera active in the background.
Facebook user Joshua Maddux discovered the problem on Saturday 9 November when looking at another user’s profile picture on the iPhone version of the Facebook app. He posted a demonstration video and tagged various press outlets with the news:
Others experienced a similar issue:
Facebook app on iOS 13.2.2 opens my phone’s rear camera when I open a profile photo swipe down to return (look at the little slit on the left of the video). Is this an app bug or an iOS bug?? @facebook @AppleSupport pic.twitter.com/WlhSXZulqx— Daryl Lasafin (@dzlasafin) November 10, 2019
Guy Rosen, who lists himself as VP Integrity at Facebook on his Twitter account, acknowledged the issue quickly:
Thanks for flagging this. This sounds like a bug, we are looking into it.— Guy Rosen (@guyro) November 12, 2019
That didn’t nothing to allay the concerns of some Twitter users, who were deeply spooked by the news. Some immediately suggesting (without evidence) deliberate deception on Facebook’s part:
The mic's hot, too. Messenger and insta keep it and the cam live even when the apps are closed. The bug is that you found a way to discover it, not that it happens. They'll patch that, believe it.— thinman (@thinman) November 12, 2019
Others suggested that there were good technical reasons for keeping the camera activated. One suggestion was that the camera framework on the iPhone is slow to launch, so Facebook was speeding up the app by keeping it ready in case the user wanted to post a photo or video.
Facebook told us:
We recently discovered that version 244 of the Facebook iOS app would incorrectly launch in landscape mode. In fixing that issue last week in v246 (launched on November 8th) we inadvertently introduced a bug that caused the app to partially navigate to the camera screen adjacent to News Feed when users tapped on photos.
We have seen no evidence of photos or videos being uploaded due to this bug. We’re submitting the fix for this to Apple today.
The company posted a bug fix which went live yesterday morning, so iPhone users of the Facebook app can fix it by updating their software.
What’s interesting here isn’t so much the news of a simple camera bug, so much as the distrust and suspicion that it immediately raised among a significant portion of users online. It shows that when it comes to privacy, Facebook’s past mistakes and intentional actions have left many people distrusting the company. That’s a difficult thing to get back.