Apple Watch’s Walkie-Talkie app disabled over eavesdropping concerns

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watchOS 5
Walkie-Talkie vulnerability allowed users to listen in on each other .
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple temporarily disabled the Apple Watch Walkie-Talkie app after discovering a vulnerability that allowed users to listen in on another person’s iPhone calls without their knowledge.

The app will stay installed on devices, although it won’t work until Apple issues a fix.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple apologized for the bug.

“We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent. We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.”

A user notified Apple about the bug. However, it does not look like anybody maliciously exploited the Apple Watch vulnerability.

Quick fix for Apple Watch Walkie-Talkie bug?

Apple introduced the Walkie-Talkie app last year in watchOS 5. The app lets Apple Watch owners chat back and forth with the push of a button. Unlike an actual walkie-talkie, the app functions (or functioned) regardless of the distance between you and your friend. The feature only works (or worked) with Apple Watch Series 1 and later models.

The Walkie-Talkie app vulnerability sounds reminiscent of a previous bug involving group FaceTime. That security slipup made it possible for a FaceTime caller to listen in — and even see — the person on the other end of a call before they picked up. Apple’s quick fix for the Group FaceTime bug made the feature slightly less appealing.

Hopefully Apple can sort out the Walkie-Talkie bug before long. Not least because it’s one of the best ways to communicate using Apple Watch.