1984 is a classic dystopian novel published in 1949 by author George Orwell. Orwell predicted, albeit indirectly, a society where cameras and microphones are in range to see and hear everything. In his book, this omnipresent government surveillance is used against the public. Sound like a familiar scenario?
Privacy concerns have been a hot topic for the last several years as consumers have allowed smartphones and mobile applications to become an everyday part of their lives. Massive amounts of data is uploaded and downloaded, with the security of this data dependent on the service being used.
Despite the fact that many people willingly share detailed aspects of their lives via social media, users still want to be in control of the data collected that is specific to them. It becomes a problem when the device or application begins to act independently of the user's will, which is what we're seeing here.
Felix Krause, who recently advised of the danger of malicious iPhone password popups, revealed that granting camera permissions can allow applications to covertly take pictures and videos as long as the app is in the foreground. This is likely intended behavior as opposed to a software bug.
The permissions allow the app to take photos and videos even if the user does not see the camera's onscreen viewfinder. It's unclear exactly how many apps are actively doing this, but Krause created a test app to verify this claim.
Krause created an app called "watch.user." Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchieral of Motherboard, installed the app on his iPhone and confirmed the app took pictures of him while he was simply scrolling through it. The app was found to be running a hidden facial recognition engine also.
Watch.user doesn't upload pictures taken from your device, nor does it store them in the Photos app, but there is nothing that can be done to prevent pictures from being taken and uploaded somewhere without you noticing by an app you give camera permissions.
This isn't cause for too much concern, because camera consent can simply be shut off for specific apps, but it's helpful to know what applications are capable of doing autonomously.
Should apps have this type of functionality if camera permission is granted? Let us know what you think in the comments section.