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Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a ‘push to talk’ interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

A statement from Apple reads:

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.

Apple was alerted to the bug via its report a vulnerability portal directly and says that there is no current evidence that it was exploited in the wild.

The company is temporarily disabling the feature entirely until a fix can be made and rolled out to devices. The Walkie Talkie App will remain installed on devices, but will not function until it has been updated with the fix.

Earlier this year a bug was discovered in the group calling feature of FaceTime that allowed people to listen in before a call was accepted. It turned out that the teen who discovered the bug, Grant Thompson, had attempted to contact Apple about the issue but was unable to get a response. Apple fixed the bug and eventually rewarded Thompson a bug bounty.  This time around, Apple appears to be listening more closely to the reports that come in via its vulnerability tips line and has disabled the feature.

Earlier today, Apple quietly pushed a Mac update to remove a feature of the Zoom conference app that allowed it to work around Mac restrictions to provide a smoother call initiation experience — but that also allowed emails and websites to add a user to an active video call without their permission.

Apple defends its takedown of some apps monitoring screen-time

Apple is defending its removal of certain parental control apps from the app store in a new statement.

The company has come under fire for its removal of certain apps that were pitched as tools giving parents more control over their children’s screen-time, but that Apple said relied on technology that was too invasive for private use.

“We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk. It’s important to understand why and how this happened,” the company said in a statement

The heart of the issue is the use of mobile device management technologies in the parental control apps that Apple has removed from the app store, the company said.

These device management tools give  control and access over a device’s user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history to a third party.

“We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017,” the company said.

Apple acknowledged that the technology has legitimate uses in the context of businesses looking to monitor and manage corporate devices to control proprietary data and hardware, but, the company said, it is “a clear violation of App Store policies — for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device.”

The company said it communicated to app developers that they were in violation of App Store guidelines and gave the company 30 days to submit updates to avoid being booted from the App Store.

Indeed, we first reported that Apple was warning developers about screen-time apps in December.

“Several developers released updates to bring their apps in line with these policies,” Apple said in a statement. “Those that didn’t were removed from the App Store.”

Apple is opening new stores in Downtown Miami, Cologne and Nanjing

 While Apple’s retail team is currently remodeling all its stores, the company is also opening brand new stores around the world. Apple is opening a flagship store in Downtown Miami, a new store in a historic building in Cologne and a third store in Nanjing.
Last weekend, Apple reopened the 35th remodeled store across 18 different states. “Almost 50 percent of the stores in the U.S. Read More

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Nearly one year after launch, Apple Pay finds limited traction in China

An employee works on a laptop computer as he talks with a customer near a sheet showing accepted methods of payment, including Apple Pay, top left, at an Apple Store in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. Apple Inc. on Thursday launched its smartphone-based payment system in China where the electronic payments market is already dominated by an arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China. After a slow start, Apple Pay is now dominating its home country, the United States, but the same can’t be said of China where it is up against a different set of challenges. Data from Boston Retail Partners shows that Apple Pay is now accepted by 36 percent of merchants in… Read More

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Tim Cook’s compensation not spared as Apple misses performance goals

New Product Announcements At The Apple Inc. Spring Forward Event As a result of Apple’s performance based executive compensation packages, CEO Tim Cook and other leaders within the company will be taking pay cuts. Apple missed internal revenue and operating income targets for 2016 by 3.7 and 0.5 percent respectively, resulting in a 15 percent cut for the CEO. Apple is reporting annual sales of $215.6 billion and operating income of $60 billion for… Read More

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