FaceTime Isn’t Broken

Update: Update is out. iOS 12.1.4 addresses this bug as well as another security issue that Apple found while auditing the code for FaceTime.

On Monday night (January 28), talk of a serious Group FaceTime bug hit the internet in a big way.

New in iOS 12: Group FaceTime

If a would-be attacker used a specific set of steps that were not typical for a regular FaceTime call, they could activate the call recipient’s microphone on their iPhone (or, presumably, iPad) without them answering the call. There was an extra privacy concern that if the recipient of the call declined the request, their camera was mistakenly activated as well, even if the phone looked like it was asleep.

There is no indication this bug was exploited maliciously, and it appears to have been reported to Apple at least a week and a half before the explosion of attention on January 28. Moving quickly once this story went public, Apple shut off Group FaceTime (a new feature that was introduced with iOS 12 this fall), effectively blocking this exploit from being used. In all, the bug was active for about 2-3 hours with a large audience, as Apple presumably scrambled to find a way to quickly fix it.

Immediately, Apple put out a press release saying that a permanent fix for this bug would be coming later this week, and shutting off Group FaceTime has mitigated the problems associated with the bug until the fix is released.

Unfortunately, because the news is effectively entertainment now, the following evening (Tuesday), local news, all the way up to late-night comedy shows, all talked breathlessly about the story, and at least from what I heard, none mentioned that the offending problem has been completely disabled until a proper fix is in place. In other words, the window when anybody at any scale could have been harmed by this was exceptionally small, only a few hours at most.

Now, though, the viral story of ‘Turn Off FaceTime’ will circulate for years, even though in my opinion it’s probably one of the very best ways for a group of Apple device users to communicate with audio/video, and even when the feature is fixed, there will be no news stories saying ‘You Can Turn FaceTime Back On Now’, even though after Monday evening, there was no need to turn it off.

There are a few big lessons I take away from this:

  1. Basically every news story is as well-researched as the one you know the intimate details about beforehand (not at all well-researched). Take them with a grain of salt.
  2. Every piece of software has bugs and flaws at some point in its development cycle. Obviously, big flashy bugs like this are a BIG deal, but it’s a reality of software that they will come up. The best thing you can do as a developer is to put systems in place to be able to deal with them quickly, and in my opinion, Apple’s ability to pull the plug on Group FaceTime without taking the entire system down is an example of good design.
  3. Don’t take your privacy for granted. People are going to see this story and turn off FaceTime because this was a huge privacy issue. However, I promise you that there are much bigger and more severe privacy violations going on at huge companies around the world right now, and because it is status quo, we all kind of just give them a pass. You should ‘audit’ the programs you use from time to time, and if you’re able, do some research on the privacy over-reaches of companies like Facebook. You’d be surprised the kinds of things they are caught doing on an ongoing basis, but it’s not a news story for some reason.

So, I didn’t turn FaceTime off, and unless something changes, I don’t think you need to either (if you didn’t already). If you’re paranoid about being watched/heard in your home, FaceTime is far from your biggest concern (this bug is no longer a risk as it stands today).

Humans are flawed, so it stands to reason that the software we create isn’t always perfect either. But writing off technology because of one viral news story is harmful to all of us, because the news can’t, and doesn’t, cover everything.

Please, don’t turn off FaceTime and vow never to trust it again because of this story. Your privacy is, and always will be, at risk, but that doesn’t make this particular piece of software the problem.

Things I’ve Learned in 5 Years as a Public Servant

At the start of 2018, I celebrated my fifth year of service as a federal government employee. I’m a *very* different person than I was back in January of 2013 when I first started working at NSERC, and a big part of these changes relate directly to things I’ve learned working in government.

A part of me thinks it would be really nice if growing up, people had to spend (at least) a few weeks working in bureaucracy (just like how everybody would behave better in restaurants if they had to spend a few weeks waiting tables and washing dishes).

It seems (to me) like pretty much everybody complains about how long things take in government, and I’m definitely not saying that bureaucracy is as efficient and streamlined as it can possibly be. However, I do think that these things move slowly for a reason, and that learning to take your time and consider multiple viewpoints while completing work that affects people’s lives and livelihoods would keep everyone a little more humble and honest.

I’ve had the privilege of working on many different teams and projects in my time in the public service, and I definitely approach things now with far more consideration and patience than I used to. Work in government also gives some insight in to just how complicated issues surrounding politics tend to be, and specifically how almost nothing is as simple as someone might tend to assume from the outside.

Politics has become extremely divisive in the last few years, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people are used to hearing only one side of a story, as opposed to looking at the bigger picture from an objective perspective, and making up their own minds. There is also a sharp increase in personal attacks in politics, as opposed to ideological differences being respectfully debated.

Another piece of what I believe makes work as a public servant complicated is the changing ways we communicate and share information with each other. Through the news and social media, we’re all exposed to a pre-existing point of view on every possible issue, and these are not always presented objectively (this depends very highly on your preferred sources of news).

The effect of this, at least for the purposes of this line of thinking, is that we think we’re forming objective thoughts and opinions, but they’re often just internalizing biased talking points that don’t look at the whole story. We’re all guilty of this, and not just when we’re laughing along as late-night talk show hosts bash the current US President. One of the really handy things public service has taught me is to recognize where these biases are and to not get caught up in ridiculing the little things that go on in every social group (US executive administrations included).

It’s hard to say for sure whether I’ll spend the rest of my career in the public service, but I’ve loved the lessons I’ve learned so far, and the skills I’ve gained, and I’ve been able to manage my cynicism so far. One things that helps with that aspect in particular is to focus your personal efforts to improve your workplace to the things that you can control, and realize that you won’t be happy with every single decision that gets made around you, but to pick your battles and limit the energy you exert on things that feel important but don’t actually serve any particularly useful improvement to the way things are.

Here’s to the next five years!

The ‘Time is Money’ Continuum

When you’re a kid first getting their allowance, you would spend literally all the time you had in order to get literally any money. I would clean my room, mow the lawn and do yard work for a couple of hours in order to get a pittance (maybe $5). I had all the time in the world, and no money, so I would work as long and hard as I needed to in order to acquire even the smallest amount of money.


At 15, I started working at McDonalds. I was in school of course, but it was no problem working 8 hours each day on the weekend and 2-3 nights a week. The only things I had to plan around were the occasional soccer practice/game, and spending time with friends (which I mostly did at school anyhow). I would work a ton because I barely had any money, but I still had lots of time and could use every extra dollar earned.


By the time I hit 23 years old and finished school, I was working 40 hours a week, and trying to grow as a person, in order to gain experience and get a good, comfortable job. I was trying to pay off student loans, so I was working ‘full-time’, but I still had quite a bit of time on my hands, so I would do whatever I needed to in order to spend little to no money to do things.

This meant that when I built a website, I did it on a free platform, even if that meant putting a TON of time and effort in to making it do what I needed it to. When I wanted to watch a TV show or movie(s), I would find them online and watch, even if doing all that required a precarious, legally dubious setup that took months to get working just right.

When I was finding music or looking at online storage solutions, I used the free tier and navigated around in order to stay under every cap that would have required me to pay for anything.


Fast forward a little bit to about 2 years ago. I’m now married, starting to build a career where I’m happy at work and doing things I love. The time/money balance is starting to shift more towards money. I’m making a comfortable living and helping to pay down a mortgage, and I’m not worrying about where my next paycheck or my next 20 paychecks are coming from.

I’m still enjoying hobbies that are effectively free, but I’m starting to realize that the trade-offs I’d made when I was 23 just don’t really make sense any more. I am gradually coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have as much spare time as I used to, and it might make more sense to pay for some things to have them done now, rather than working for hours or days or weeks to have them done for ‘free’. Throwing money at a problem could make it go away, and would free up my time to spend with my wife, family, and the other people I care about.

When it comes to making a decision at this time, I’ll spend $20-30 here or there, I’ll subscribe to a $10 a month service if it’s something I use. The time I save by spending that money is well worth it.


This brings us up to today. I’m married, about 20% of the way through my career (probably), and I have an 8-month old daughter and a dog at home to take care of. Outside of sleep, commute, eating, work, making sure the baby has everything she needs, and things like making sure bills are paid, I get about 2-3 hours a day where I can even think about taking time for myself, or to potentially spend on hobbies (realistically, it’s more like 1-2 hours a day over an average week, not including weekends).

I make a comfortable living, which I’m extremely grateful for, and more than ever before, I find myself inclined to pay money to get time back for myself and my family. For me, that means signing up for a meal plan to get food sent to my door to reduce grocery trips, or subscribing to cable TV and Amazon Prime to watch TV and movies without thinking about where they’re coming from, or buying a virtual private server to host my website so that I have control over it as opposed to being ruled by and wrestling with the free hosting solutions I had previously been using.

On the time/money continuum, I have enough money that it’s worth it for me to spend it to get my time back in many situations, and I think a lot of people can take the time something takes for granted when thinking about how busy they are or what is most important to them. If the ultimate goal is retirement, is it really worth spending the most active 30+ years of your life constantly worrying if you’ll have enough money to make it through? I’m not sure everyone is truly considering the costs of that stress on their bodies when they make those calculations for themselves.


I’ve spoken before (a LOT) about the concept of basic income, and how everybody should have the luxury of not worrying where their money for basic necessities should come from. The other side of basic income is that it would let families where parents have to work 2 jobs buy some of their time back, rather than spending it all earning just barely enough to survive in poverty.

Giving every adult enough money to ‘need’ to work less would be a huge boon to the mental health and well-being of everyone in our society, and it would allow those of us who don’t have enough time to actually live their lives a little more flexibility to decide where they want to spend their time, and how they would like to spend their money.

I know if anybody in my family was struggling to make ends meet, I would feel an obligation to help them out, and I think it would do all of us a great deal of good to think of the people around us in our cities as family, and supporting anybody who has fallen on hard times by giving them money with no strings attached, just like you would a family member.

Everybody deserves to choose how they spend at least some of their time, and that requires money.