We are nearing the one month mark from the first social media rumblings of a flaw to Apple’s popular iOS application, FaceTime. The flaw is believed to be discovered first by 14-year-old Grant Thompson on January 21, 2019. Thompson’s mother says she contacted Apple Support by phone, email, fax and Twitter about the problem and the fix — that Grant discovered,himself. Still, a week after being notified, Apple did not alert consumers of the flaw to the operating system. Consumers found themselves vulnerable to eavesdropping through the FaceTime and angrily took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the app’s failure and Apple’s disinterest in addressing consumer complaints in a timely manner, as reported in an earlier Consider The Consumer article on the flaw and the fix.
Apple offered consumers a fix in the form of an update from the previous existing operating system to iOS.12.1.4. However, as many consumers found a little over two weeks ago, the essential upgrade is also flawed.
It is shocking that Apple still hasn’t seemed to learn the first lesson from the bug because they repeated the same mistake with the update. In selling to update, Apple calls it, “more powerful, personal, and intelligent than ever before,” but fails to mention what would not be possible with the update — the GroupTime function. There was no mention of it in the release notes and was only mentioned on social media after consumers began complaining.
Consumers have learned that the upgrade, while preventing iPhone and iPad users from having their privacy unknowingly invaded, disables the GroupTime function. While it is still possible to do a GroupTime call, it is far more cumbersome. To host a group call, consumers must hang up current calls and begin a new call with all persons to be included in the group chat. This is something that would have to happen every time, even if in the midst of an ongoing chat, everyone agrees to add on another person.
Last month’s flaw was such a concern that Apple was sent a long letter from members of Congress asking for assurances as to whether or not consumer information would remain private, how this flaw happened and the steps that would be taken to avoid another such breach of confidentiality. The State of New York also announced an investigation into the matter as well.
This is not the first time Apple was under inquiry from members of Congress. On July 9, 2018, then U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce chair, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook that mirrored some of the questions brought to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a televised hearing on the matter of membership and consumer privacy that April. The response was metered by Tim Powderly, Apple’s Director of Government Affairs, who responded by letter on August 7, 2018:
“We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minimize our collection of customer data. When we do collect data, we’re transparent about it and work to disassociate it from the user. We utilize on-device processing to minimize data collection by Apple. The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertising.”
Powderly had written a similar letter to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). Both Sen. Grassley and Rep. Walden were contacted for comment and as of publication have not responded to inquiries.
When asked if Apple responded to the letter sent from U.S. House of Representatives, Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), representatives for the company issued a comment of “no comment,” which can only leave one to assume that this continues to be an ongoing issue for the company that is still being addressed on many fronts, by many entities. In the meantime, what does this mean for consumers? Not very much. Until Apple can find a permanent fix, GroupTime remains disabled on most devices.
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About the Author: Aisha K. Staggers is a writer, lecturer, and co-host and producer of “All Our Own” radio show and podcast and co-host of “Staggers State of Things” on the Dr. Vibe Show. Her work has been featured on MTV News, HuffPost, Blavity, Atlanta Blackstar, For Harriet, New York Review of Books and a host of other first-run publications and syndicated outlets. Find her on Twitter @AishaStaggers. For more of her work, check out her page here!
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