There’s no doubt you’ve given some iOS apps access to personal data like your photo library or contact list. But if you’ve given them access to your camera, they could be doing a lot more than you’re aware of behind the scenes, including photographing you without your knowledge. Luckily, you can stop the surreptitious data collection without resorting to never taking a photo again.
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Security researcher Felix Krause discussed the potential privacy violation in a blog post investigating Apple’s iOS 11 privacy settings, and found that Apple’s handling of permissions concerning camera access allows for potential abuse from apps looking to collect more data about users without their consent or knowledge.
How it Works
Some apps might request camera access when starting up to obtain a profile picture of you, or to handle media you want to send to friends. If users grant an app permission to access their device’s camera, that app can now do much more than take a photo of you.
According to Krause, apps with camera access are capable of taking photos and recording video of you while using the app, uploading photos and videos without your knowledge, or even take advantage of iOS 11’s facial recognition tools to read your expression while you’re browsing Twitter on the can. What’s worse, there’s no indication of the app’s nefarious activity, so you’re none the wiser.
Krause isn’t claiming particular iOS apps are abusing their access to your camera, only highlighting what apps can do if they decide to collect more than they should without you knowing. His suggestions for resolving the issue involve changes to the camera permission functions, as well as an indicator in iOS 11.
A less likely suggestion is the addition of an LED indicator on the front and back of iOS devices, similar to the green LED Apple uses on its laptops indicating the camera’s status.
Use Your Camera App and Import Photos Yourself
If you want to use your apps to share photos, you can still get away with keeping your camera off-limits if you’re able to upload photos from your camera roll. You’ll need to take the photo using your preferred camera app, and then return to your camera-restricted app to import it. The app will need access to your photo library, but it won’t have camera access, meaning there’s no way for it to spy on your face or environment during use.
Of course, your photos may contain more information than you realise, including location data. Be sure to disable the photo geotagging in your smartphone if you want to keep your location secure.
Save Yourself By Changing a Few Settings
You don’t have to put tape over your camera (yet) to stop apps from snapping pictures of you. A much more user-friendly solution exists in your iOS device’s settings. You can restrict which apps have access to your camera, even if you’ve given them permission to use it in the past. Open your Settings app, head to Privacy, and select Camera. There you’ll see every app with camera access permissions and you can toggle them off to your preference (or turn them all off for some peace of mind).