Firm disables Group FaceTime over serious glitch which can also turn on video without people’s knowledge

Apple has made the group functionality on its FaceTime application temporarily unavailable as it rushes to fix a glitch that allowed users to listen in on the people they were calling when they did not pick up the call. Under certain circumstances, the glitch also allowed callers to see video of the person they were calling before they picked up.

The Guardian confirmed the existence of the bug, which was first reported by 9to5Mac. It turned the phone of the recipient of a FaceTime call into a microphone while the call was still ringing. If the recipient of the call pressed the power button on the side of the iPhone – an action typically used to silence or ignore an incoming call – their phone would begin broadcasting video to the initial caller.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Guardian. The company told Reuters it was aware of the problem and would release a software update “later this week”.

In the meantime, the Group FaceTime feature was temporarily made unavailable, according to Apple’s system status webpage. By disabling that feature at the source, the company appears to have prevented any further exploitation of the bug.

The flaw was discovered amid increasing concern over privacy by regulators around the globe and – embarrassingly for Apple – was exposed on Data Privacy Day, a global event instituted by the Council of Europe in 2007 to raise awareness among businesses and consumers about the importance of protecting privacy. Hours before the bug was first revealed to the public, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, had tweeted that “the dangers are real and the consequences are too important” to not institute “vital privacy protections”.

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