iPhone camera and iOS 14 at crux of Facebook & Instagram spying lawsuit

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2020
Facebook allegedly spied on Instagram users through unauthorized use of iPhone cameras, a new lawsuit claims.

Credit: Solen Feyissa
Credit: Solen Feyissa


Back in July, an iOS 14 privacy feature revealed that Instagram appeared to be activating the iPhone camera and microphone even when they weren't in use. The specific feature was an indicator dot that showed up when the camera wasn't active, such as when a user was scrolling the feeds.

At the time, Facebook said that the behavior was unintentional and caused by a bug that was quickly fixed. In the complaint, lodged Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, plaintiff Brittany Conditi contends that it wasn't.

"Instagram is constantly accessing users' smartphone camera feature while the app is open and monitors users without permission, i.e., when users are not interacting with Instagram's camera feature," the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint contends that Facebook is surveilling users to collect "lucrative and valuable data on its users that it would not otherwise have access to."

That alleged spying, it continues, allowed Facebook to "monitor users' most intimate moments, including those in the privacy of their own homes, in addition to collecting valuable insight and market research on its users."

"Defendants abused their ability to access users' smartphone cameras, and committed egregious privacy violations, for one specific reason: to increase their advertising revenue. By obtaining extremely private and intimate personal data on their users, including in the privacy of their own home, Defendants are able to target users more than ever before," the complaint reads.

The lawsuit also specifically notes that iOS 14 is a "game-changer" for privacy, since it allows users to "see exactly how companies access and use their personal information" and which apps are currently using the camera or microphone. It also brings up past alleged privacy blunders from TikTok and LinkedIn that were exposed by the Apple operating system update.

In response to the July media reports, Facebook said that it doesn't surreptitiously activate either the camera or microphone.

"We only access your camera when you tell us to -- for example, when you swipe from Feed to Camera. We found and are fixing a bug in iOS 14 Beta that mistakenly indicates that some people are using the camera when they aren't," Facebook said. "We do not access your camera in those instances, and no content is recorded."

Facebook has not publicly commented on the allegations.

The complaint alleges that Facebook broke wiretapping and two-party consent laws in California, and claims that its failure to disclose its data collection practices constitutes a violation of the California Consumer Privacy Act. It seeks class status, as well as damages, legal costs, and a finding that Facebook's alleged behavior was unlawful.

Conditi v. Instagram by Mike Wuerthele on Scribd

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    Isn't this the kind of thing that Apple is checking for during the review process?
    watto_cobracornchip
  • Reply 2 of 35
    iMacabre said:
    Isn't this the kind of thing that Apple is checking for during the review process?
    It's a review process, not a test process.  If the user gave the app access to the camera, a review process that is likely highly automated and can't take very long, given the millions of apps to review, isn't going to catch an app occasionally using the camera when it shouldn't.  Especially when "when it shouldn't" is not exactly easy to determine when the user gave the app permission to access it, overall.
    edited September 2020 razorpitgilly33DogpersonmwhitesvanstrombonobobRayz2016sphericmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 35
    rob53rob53 Posts: 3,273member
    This article justified my comments in the AI  TikTok article, https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/09/18/president-trump-set-to-scuttle-tiktok-oracle-deal. I know this is old news but how is it any different than what TikTok is being accused of? Of wait, Facebook is shielded from any wrongdoings by Trump.
    DogpersonDAalsethOferronnwatto_cobraGeorgeBMacmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 4 of 35
    Where are you now Zuckerberg, to tell us again, how bad are the Apple’s  privacy rules in the AppStore, for the freedom and happiness of the users?
    And for the change, we would like to hear this time, your opinion about your company, and not about Apple, what you usually do!
    gilly33Dogpersonronnwatto_cobramwhiteGeorgeBMacRayz2016
  • Reply 5 of 35
    rob53 said:
    This article justified my comments in the AI  TikTok article, https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/09/18/president-trump-set-to-scuttle-tiktok-oracle-deal. I know this is old news but how is it any different than what TikTok is being accused of? Of wait, Facebook is shielded from any wrongdoings by Trump.
    Huh?? It’s sad that grown adults have been reduced to conflating the actions of a hostile foreign entity that is engaged in heinous human rights abuses with.. well, anything else. 
    gatorguywatto_cobrasvanstrom
  • Reply 6 of 35
    rob53 said:
    This article justified my comments in the AI  TikTok article, https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/09/18/president-trump-set-to-scuttle-tiktok-oracle-deal. I know this is old news but how is it any different than what TikTok is being accused of? Of wait, Facebook is shielded from any wrongdoings by Trump.
    I don’t get it ... are you saying that Trump is protecting Facebook? Do you really not know that Facebook (and YouTube, and Twitter, etc.) clearly fact checks/censors data which is more likely to support Trump, while allowing data with the same level of deception to pass if it’s more likely to oppose Trump? Are you really unaware of the severe and shameful double standard ‘the left’ has been using, and apparently succeeding through mass manipulation? Open your eyes and learn to think for yourself rather than just believe what you’re told by those who are deceiving you.
    patchythepiratewatto_cobramwhitecornchipinTIMidator
  • Reply 7 of 35
    mac_dogmac_dog Posts: 1,078member
    Sign me up!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 35
    A case like this "should" be able to be easily resolved, as I'm assuming that Apple has archived versions of old apps; and as such a forensic analyst should be able to quickly tell if the app actually appears to be doing anything (processing or transmitting) any data from the camera.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 35
    iMacabre said:
    Isn't this the kind of thing that Apple is checking for during the review process?

    Yes, the App Store reviews new apps and its updates before they can be added to the app store.   But NO review will or can catch every possible infraction.

    So, the initial review is supplemented by ongoing reviews as needed to catch and correct those abusing the rules.  

    It's not a one step process.  Rather it's an ongoing process to insure to the best of their ability that Apps on the App Store adhere to the rules.
    ...  But the nay-sayers will claim that, because it isn't completely perfect catching every infraction immediately then it is completely worthless.   It's a common tactic.
    cornchipronnmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 35
    rob53 said:
    This article justified my comments in the AI  TikTok article, https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/09/18/president-trump-set-to-scuttle-tiktok-oracle-deal. I know this is old news but how is it any different than what TikTok is being accused of? Of wait, Facebook is shielded from any wrongdoings by Trump.

    The difference is:   Trump's allegations against TikTok are based on his own smear campaign against China rather than any type of actual facts, evidence or reality.
     
    As the BBC pointed out weeks ago:   The fact that it is a Chinese company is sufficient evidence for Trump and Trumpers.  The rest of the world laughs and points out how U.S. social media actually do all the things Trump is accusing TikTok of doing -- while there is zero actual evidence that TikTok is actually doing it!

    Unlike the case against TikTok, this case against Zuckerberg companies has direct and specific evidence of wrong doing.   While that evidence needs to pass through legal processes, it is still direct and specific evidence that can be tested and challenged as well as defended rather than unsubstantiated smears.

    An analogy might be:
    "We saw you holding a gun on the bank teller demanding money"
    versus:
    "We claim you are a criminal.   So therefor you are guilty of robbing a bank".
    larryjwbeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 11 of 35
    rob53 said:
    This article justified my comments in the AI  TikTok article, https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/09/18/president-trump-set-to-scuttle-tiktok-oracle-deal. I know this is old news but how is it any different than what TikTok is being accused of? Of wait, Facebook is shielded from any wrongdoings by Trump.
    Huh?? It’s sad that grown adults have been reduced to conflating the actions of a hostile foreign entity that is engaged in heinous human rights abuses with.. well, anything else. 

    Nice diversion based on a fact free smear campaign....   Is that all you got?
    ronn
  • Reply 12 of 35
    georgie01 said:
    rob53 said:
    This article justified my comments in the AI  TikTok article, https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/09/18/president-trump-set-to-scuttle-tiktok-oracle-deal. I know this is old news but how is it any different than what TikTok is being accused of? Of wait, Facebook is shielded from any wrongdoings by Trump.
    I don’t get it ... are you saying that Trump is protecting Facebook? Do you really not know that Facebook (and YouTube, and Twitter, etc.) clearly fact checks/censors data which is more likely to support Trump, while allowing data with the same level of deception to pass if it’s more likely to oppose Trump? Are you really unaware of the severe and shameful double standard ‘the left’ has been using, and apparently succeeding through mass manipulation? Open your eyes and learn to think for yourself rather than just believe what you’re told by those who are deceiving you.

    Actually, that's a lie by telling part of the truth.

    Yes, Facebook censors user posts.
    But it let's Trump's FakeNews, lies, distortions and propaganda go through unchallenged if they are in the form of an ad.

    But, nice try at the deflection of blaming "the left".   It's sad, but still laughable.
    ronn
  • Reply 13 of 35
    svanstrom said:
    A case like this "should" be able to be easily resolved, as I'm assuming that Apple has archived versions of old apps; and as such a forensic analyst should be able to quickly tell if the app actually appears to be doing anything (processing or transmitting) any data from the camera.

    Like decades ago when Google scooped up private WiFi data:   "It was done by a rogue programmer!"   And, like then, everybody will nod and move on.....
    ronnwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 35
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,954member
    Woopsie! 

    I’ve often wondered about this type thing, and now it looks like my suspicions have been confirmed. Which is sad, but ultimately not very surprising. 

    I’ve also considered the issue of the review process. While I understand that things slip through the cracks (I can kinda see missing the clipboard snooping thing), it seems like making sure apps aren’t using the camera to peep in on users would be, like I dunno, maybe... one of the top priorities?!?!

    as far as TikTok goes, wouldn’t it be pretty easy to verify that the app is or is not doing this with the iOS 14 update? 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 35
    Yeah, I think it was kinda funny when Facebook went to the EU anti-trust authorities and claimed that Apple was infringing on user's right to be spied on.

    Of course that's not how they put it ... people who spy on you make it about interfering with business models and such.

    Apple really pissed off the businesses which make their living by tracking your every move when they put their anti-tracking stuff in iOS 14.
    cornchipronnwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 35
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 24,390member
    svanstrom said:
    A case like this "should" be able to be easily resolved, as I'm assuming that Apple has archived versions of old apps; and as such a forensic analyst should be able to quickly tell if the app actually appears to be doing anything (processing or transmitting) any data from the camera.

    Like decades ago when Google scooped up private WiFi data:   "It was done by a rogue programmer!"   And, like then, everybody will nod and move on.....
    In fairness, it wasn't private wifi data. It was publically broadcast over open networks, you yourself could have seen it if you wished. While it was still "bad Google" and they weren't being honest about the gathering of a few brief seconds of it IMO, it wasn't private. Fibbing about the "rogue programmer ' was more egregious.

    Now you can get back to partisan posting. Sorry for the interruption. 
    edited September 2020
  • Reply 17 of 35
    gatorguy said:
    svanstrom said:
    A case like this "should" be able to be easily resolved, as I'm assuming that Apple has archived versions of old apps; and as such a forensic analyst should be able to quickly tell if the app actually appears to be doing anything (processing or transmitting) any data from the camera.

    Like decades ago when Google scooped up private WiFi data:   "It was done by a rogue programmer!"   And, like then, everybody will nod and move on.....
    In fairness, it wasn't private wifi data. It was publically broadcast over open networks, you yourself could have seen it if you wished. While it was still "bad Google" and they weren't being honest about the gathering of a few brief seconds of it IMO, it wasn't private. Fibbing about the "rogue programmer ' was more egregious.

    Now you can get back to partisan posting. Sorry for the interruption. 
    The expectations of privacy don't always overlap with the technical features/limitations trying to guarantee privacy; so what is and isn't "private" becomes a complicated mess of different interpretations of the word. So simply because a company can get data that doesn't mean that they by doing so don't breech some form of expectation of privacy.
    FileMakerFellerronnwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 35
    gatorguy said:
    svanstrom said:
    A case like this "should" be able to be easily resolved, as I'm assuming that Apple has archived versions of old apps; and as such a forensic analyst should be able to quickly tell if the app actually appears to be doing anything (processing or transmitting) any data from the camera.

    Like decades ago when Google scooped up private WiFi data:   "It was done by a rogue programmer!"   And, like then, everybody will nod and move on.....
    In fairness, it wasn't private wifi data. It was publically broadcast over open networks, you yourself could have seen it if you wished. While it was still "bad Google" and they weren't being honest about the gathering of a few brief seconds of it IMO, it wasn't private. Fibbing about the "rogue programmer ' was more egregious.

    Now you can get back to partisan posting. Sorry for the interruption. 

    In fairness it was the data, including IDs and passwords of private individuals that Google scooped up. 

    Now you can get back to partisan posting.   Your Pro-Trump posts make easy targets.
    ronnwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 35
    svanstrom said:
    gatorguy said:
    svanstrom said:
    A case like this "should" be able to be easily resolved, as I'm assuming that Apple has archived versions of old apps; and as such a forensic analyst should be able to quickly tell if the app actually appears to be doing anything (processing or transmitting) any data from the camera.

    Like decades ago when Google scooped up private WiFi data:   "It was done by a rogue programmer!"   And, like then, everybody will nod and move on.....
    In fairness, it wasn't private wifi data. It was publically broadcast over open networks, you yourself could have seen it if you wished. While it was still "bad Google" and they weren't being honest about the gathering of a few brief seconds of it IMO, it wasn't private. Fibbing about the "rogue programmer ' was more egregious.

    Now you can get back to partisan posting. Sorry for the interruption. 
    The expectations of privacy don't always overlap with the technical features/limitations trying to guarantee privacy; so what is and isn't "private" becomes a complicated mess of different interpretations of the word. So simply because a company can get data that doesn't mean that they by doing so don't breech some form of expectation of privacy.

    That's true!
    But I was talking about, several decades ago when Google was establishing Google maps and driving around with the bubble gum machine thing on top of their cars, they weren't just taking pictures and mapping but scooping up whatever WiFi data they came across in their travels.   It was a clear case of hacking.   Google defended themselves by denying that they knew it had happened and blamed it on a "rogue programmer" -- despite the terabytes of stolen data that still resided on their servers.

    GoogleGuy takes a different defense by blaming it on the victim for not securing their WiFi data better.

    Personally, I think a better defense would be that they learned their lesson and don't do that stuff anymore.
    For instance, Trump is mad at them for not disclosing personal and politicial details of people & groups like Facebook does because he is unable to target them with misinformation like he does on FaceBook.    That is definitely to Google's credit in my book.
    FileMakerFellerronnmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 35
    This sure does seem to validate the complaints of folks who complained about being bombarded with Roomba ads (or whatever) after briefly mentioning one in the privacy of their own homes.
    cornchipwatto_cobra
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