These services slowly seep into contemporary life, often without us even noticing what’s happening. I looked into why calls to my colleague Charles were routing through FaceTime; as best I can tell, I once used it to call him, probably when I had poor cellular coverage. Afterward, pressing the “audio” button, emblazoned with an old-school telephone handset, appears to have sent the call through FaceTime. Initiating a traditional call now requires many more button presses.
This is how snowballs form. A deliberate accident leads to a realization that FaceTime audio quality is better, which might inspire me to use it more often, and more deliberately. Eventually, as millions or billions of people do so, the relevance of the public switched telephone network might degrade, making Apple a telco as much as anything. (Microsoft aspired to a similar assault on telephony when it bought Skype and then transformed it into a corporate service.)
It’s unlikely that FaceTime will take over for telephone calls anytime soon, if ever. It’s a proprietary service of Apple, and the company needs a lot more of those services to keep consumers on its high-profit devices. But slow, steady change makes services proliferate. That’s how Facebook or Google or LinkedIn went from obscurity to necessity. You can’t buy a laptop without a camera that might or might not spy on you, and you can’t buy an iPhone without FaceTime. And with it, all the foibles and defects that service brings.
Eventually, and soon, Apple will release a fix for this bug. News about it will dissipate into the background, until eventually it will be largely forgotten. But behind the scenes, the issue will persist. Apple might be able to alter the behavior of FaceTime at the server level, but any changes that need to run on the client—that’s your iPhone—would still require that the user install the software update. If you (or someone else in your house) tend to put off updating to the latest version, you could still be at risk if the bug remains operative, or if other exploits arise. Often these sorts of problems encourage people to look for more security holes, whether for actual spying or just to amuse themselves by terrorizing the computer-using public with the fear of violation. And with every software update—arriving with increasing frequency—old problems vanish, but new ones also appear.
Read: The iPhone is dead. Long live the rectangle.
For another part, no matter its cause, this breach of trust will stack atop all the others that have come before, further eroding the foundation of computation. Times have changed for tech, and the default feeling people have for their devices and the services they provide is no longer eager excitement, but anxious concern. The paranoiacs were once on the fringes, spinning incredible tales of targeted persecution at the covert hands of corporate or government scoundrels. The truth turns out to be more boring, and therefore even more terrifying: When you constantly tweak computers and the software that runs on them in the hope of winning more customers using them more often, there’s more opportunity for something to go wrong.
There’s not much any one person can do about that state of affairs. You can obscure your laptop camera, but if you want to lead a normal and productive life in the world today, you can’t tape over your whole iPhone.