Is Your Apple iPhone Sneaking Photos of You?

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Some iPhone users are startled to see their own faces popping up on Apple's FaceTime. Message board threads on the Apple Support site, YCombinator, Huffington Post and elsewhere claim the front-facing camera is sneaking mugshots.

Is it malware, user error, or a bug? Opinions are all over the map.

User kar0786 on the Apple support forums reported the problem on March 22:

"My boyfriend and I have both recently experienced this problem several times--when one of us is calling the other via FaceTime, an old picture freezes on our screen, while the person receiving the call only sees a black screen," she writes. "It's kind of creepy, because it brought up photos of both of us at work, where I have used FaceTime a few times but he never has."

User mattyohe at Y Combinator Hacker News, where they presumably know what they're talking about, confirms the problem:

"While I can't consistently reproduce this issue, I was able to get FaceTime to show up with some random image of myself in the preview of my FaceTime call. Basically: 1. Open the camera app and flip the camera to yourself. 2. Close the camera app, and call yourself on your Mac's FaceTime app. 3. The image that showed up was of me frozen, from just a few moments prior when I flipped the camera around."

"When I first saw this post, I attempted to call a friend, and saw exactly what that first poster in Apple discussions saw, a black screen," mattyohe continues. "After rebooting it's all 'fine' now. (I'm running 4.3.1)."

User MrRabify posted a short YouTube video purporting to prove it.

"I thought iOS 4.3.1 might fix it but I was wrong," he writes. Another poster says Apple support had him reinstall all his apps and settings, then swapped his handset for a new phone.

In my mind, I think these facts narrow the issue down to either the firmware (my phone is running verions 4.3. I haven't yet updated to 4.3.1) or some installed app.

It may be a new spin on an old issue. Back in 2008, Wired noted that iOS takes a screenshot of pretty much everything you do:

"iPhone hacker and data-forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski explained that the popular handset snaps a screenshot of your most recent action--regardless of whether it's sending a text message, e-mailing or browsing a web page--in order to cache it. This is purely for aesthetic purposes: When an iPhone user taps the Home button, the window of the application you have open shrinks and disappears. In order to create that shrinking effect, the iPhone snaps a screenshot, Zdziarski said."

At Huffington Post, responses to this story have ranged from "data cache...much ado about nothing" to "Espionage? we have an APP for that" and "I'm getting rid of my iPhone because it doesn't dispense bacon."

Just to be on the safe side, it's probably better not to use your iPhone naked.

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