What can an iOS app do?

iOS users often grant camera access to an app soon after they download it (e.g., to add an avatar or send a photo). These apps, like a messaging app or any news-feed-based app, can easily track the users face, take pictures, or live stream the front and back camera, without the user’s consent.

  • Get full access to the front and back camera of an iPhone/iPad any time your app is running in the foreground
  • Use the front and the back camera to know what your user is doing right now and where the user is located based on image data
  • Upload random frames of the video stream to your web service, and run a proper face recognition software, which enables you to
    • Find existing photos of the person on the internet
    • Learn how the user looks like and create a 3d model of the user’s face
  • Live stream their camera onto the internet (e.g. while they sit on the toilet), with the recent innovation around faster internet connections, faster processors and more efficient video codecs it’s hard to detect for the average user
  • Estimate the mood of the user based on what you show in your app (e.g. news feed of your app)
  • Detect if the user is on their phone alone, or watching together with a second person
  • Recording stunning video material from bathrooms around the world, using both the front and the back camera, while the user scrolls through a social feed or plays a game
  • Using the new built-in iOS 11 Vision framework, every developer can very easily parse facial features in real-time like the eyes, mouth, and the face frame

Facts

Once you grant an app access to your camera, it can

  • access both the front and the back camera
  • record you at any time the app is in the foreground
  • take pictures and videos without telling you
  • upload the pictures/videos it takes immediately
  • run real-time face recognition to detect facial features or expressions

Have you ever used a social media app while using the bathroom? ?

All without indicating that your phone is recording you and your surrounding, no LEDs, no light or any other kind of indication.

How can I protect myself as a user?

There are only a few things you can do:

  • The only real safe way to protect yourself is using camera covers: There is many different covers available, find one that looks nice for you, or use a sticky note (for example). 
  • You can revoke camera access for all apps, always use the built-in camera app, and use the image picker of each app to select the photo (which will cause you to run into a problem I described with detect.location).
  • To avoid this as well, the best way is to use Copy & Paste to paste the screenshot into your messaging application. If an app has no copy & paste support, you’ll have to either expose your image library, or your camera.

It’s interesting that many people cover their camera, including Mark Zuckerberg.

Original Submission:

This Alarming privacy concern in Apple’s mobile operating system was highlighted by an Austrian developer and Google engineer, Felix Krause, who detailed the issue in his blog post published Wednesday.

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