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Don’t worry, the scary iPhone conspiracy theory in this viral TikTok is 100% false

Published May 17th, 2021 4:27PM EDT
iPhone Camera TikTok
Image: Apple

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There’s a famous quote, often attributed to Mark Twain but more likely the brainchild of someone else, which says that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on his shoes. The adage is even more applicable today thanks to technological advances which literally enable misinformation to spread around the globe at the speed of light.

While misinformation is typically something we see in the political sphere, we can also see it rear its ugly head in the technology world. A recent example surfaced earlier this month when a viral TikTok video claimed that iPhone devices equipped with Face ID were surreptitiously taking infrared photos of users every five seconds.

As a demonstration of “proof,” TikToker Brie Thomason used an infrared camera to detect flashes from a recent iPhone model. These flashes, Thomason claimed, showed that iPhones are constantly taking photos of users without their permission. And of course, given that sensational news tends to travel fast, it wasn’t long before conspiracy theorists were sharing the video far and wide.


Technology is WILDDDD. #ghostbusters #technology #infared #faceid

♬ original sound – Brie Thomason

So what’s really going on here? Is Apple — a company that has made user privacy an integral part of the user experience — actually taking photos of users on the sly?

Not at all.

In reality, what’s happening is the Attention Awareness feature doing its thing. In other words, your iPhone isn’t taking pictures of you, but rather checking to see if you’re paying attention to the screen.

Note the following from an Apple support document:

Even if you don’t enroll in Face ID, the TrueDepth camera on iPhone X or later, or iPad Pro 11-inch or iPad Pro 12.9-inch intelligently activates to support attention aware features.

For example,

  • When you’re looking at your device, your display will not dim until you stop looking at your device.
  • If you’re looking at your device, it will lower the volume sound of your alerts.

Another Apple support document that highlights some of the benefits of Attention Awareness reads as follows:

For additional security, Face ID is attention aware. It unlocks iPhone only when your eyes are open and looking at the screen. iPhone can also reveal notifications and messages, keep the screen lit when you’re reading, or lower the volume of alerts.

If you want to turn the Attention Aware feature off, that can easily be done by going to Settings > Face ID & Passcode and then toggling off the Attention Aware option.

All told, the TikTok video may seem scary and promote the idea that the iPhone is a privacy nightmare, but the truth, as often tends to be the case, is a lot blander. Your iPhone isn’t taking photos of you and, long story short, the TikTok video above is certainly one worth laughing at as opposed to paying attention to.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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