Apple’s AirPods are being misused to spy on conversations through a feature that was not meant to enable eavesdropping through the wireless earbuds.
The iOS 12 update, which Apple released last September, added the Live Listen feature to the AirPods. Previously reserved for hearing aids certified under the Made for iPhone hearing aid program, Live Listen allows the iPhone to be used as a directional microphone and the AirPods as hearing aids, in situations such as in a noisy restaurant.
To activate the feature, users will need to go to the Control Center menu under Settings, tap Customize Controls, and then tap the plus sign next to the Hearing icon to add it to the Control Center.
Apple added Live Listen to the AirPods to help users with minor hearing issues. However, some people are talking about abusing the feature to listen in on others.
If u have AirPods ????, u can press “Live Listen” to “On” and leave your phone in the room with someone and u can hear what they saying, thank me later???? pic.twitter.com/fC6KYmqpB4
— arnold (@arnoldcrndo) January 9, 2019
The viral tweet on how to use Apple’s AirPods as an eavesdropping device by a user who goes by the handle @arnoldcrndo has been retweeted over 50,000 times and has received over 152,000 likes. The process is fairly simple — users just have to activate the Live Listen feature, leave their iPhone near the people they want to spy on, and listen to the conversation from another place through their AirPods.
The Twitter user then adds that the Live Listen feature may be used as walkie talkies, and also to cheat in schools as another person communicates the answers to the AirPods-wearer taking a test.
The Live Listen feature of the AirPods being used for anything other than its intended purpose is likely something that Apple does not want to happen, moreso for spying when the company has been very vocal about protecting user privacy.
Users on Twitter and Reddit have expressed concern over the AirPods being used to eavesdrop on others, but raised the issue of the awkwardness of having to leave your iPhone with other people, which may be a sign that something is up.
It is unclear if Apple is already aware of the situation, and if it will do something about it. Perhaps have the iPhone play a sound regularly to alert people that the Live Listen feature is activated?