I just listened to my dad playing piano back in Oklahoma over my phone. Lovely tune, I think something by Gershwin. The only thing is, he never picked up the phone while I was listening, or knew that I could hear him. I was spying on him through his iPhone — and I could do the same thing to pretty much anyone on an iPhone right now. What’s more, you could do the same to me.
A major new bug introduced in iOS 12.1 allows anyone to exploit a bug in FaceTime Groups to listen in on the audio (and potentially see the video) of anyone else using iOS. I was able to get it to work on a variety of iOS devices ranging from a very new iPhone XS to a very beat-up iPhone 5S, but all were running iOS 12.1 and above.
The bug works like this: FaceTime someone. If they don’t immediately pick up, swipe up on the FaceTime screen, and hit “Add Person.” Type in your own phone number. This will then create a FaceTime group and connect the two calls, meaning you can now listen in on whatever is happening on the other end of the line you FaceTimed. For them, it looks like you’re trying to FaceTime with them, but there’s no indication that you can hear them (or, if you make noise, they can hear you).
What’s more, there’s the potential to also see someone’s video. If the person you’re calling happens to hit the power button after you created the FaceTime group, you’ll then get a live shot of whatever is in front of their front-facing camera. (I wasn’t able to get this to work on every device — it may be confined to certain models of iOS devices.)
Here’s a MacRumors video explaining the bug in greater detail:
The only option right now if you don’t like the idea of anyone being able to eavesdrop on you? Disable FaceTime on your phone. To do that, go to Settings -> FaceTime -> toggle FaceTime off.
Apple is aware of the bug, and says there’s a fix coming later this week. In the meantime, you’ll probably want to disable FaceTime and maybe sleep with your iPhone outside the bedroom for a bit. You’ll get better sleep either way.
Update: It appears Apple has disabled FaceTime Groups on its end, listing Group Facetime as “temporarily unavailable” on its support page. Still, better safe than sorry until Apple officially gives the all clear that the bug has been squashed — I’d leave FaceTime disabled for now.