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Security & privacy

This shocking flaw could allow your phone to watch you

When it comes to web browsers, it always pays to be picky. Not all browsers are the same in terms of privacy and security, and choosing one that works to protect your data will benefit you greatly in the long run.

But which browser is the right one to choose? Well, it depends on whether you want more options like extensions, better security or more robust privacy options. Tap or click here to see our top favorite web browsers.

In terms of privacy and ease of use, Firefox is one of the best browsers you can pick. But a new security flaw discovered in the browser is giving many users second thoughts. If you activate your camera inside of a mobile browsing window, a glitch prevents it from turning off — even if you switch apps or lock your phone. Here’s what you can do about it.

Firefox has a burning desire to see you

Back in 2019, Mozilla engineers discovered an unusual bug in the Android version of Firefox that would prevent the camera from shutting off if it was activated inside a mobile browser window. Switching apps or moving the app to the background won’t turn the camera off, nor will locking the smartphone.

This is a horrific security issue for several reasons. If a streamer or videographer isn’t careful, they can leave their stream live and it runs without ever knowing. If the camera and microphone are still on without showing any signs, it’s possible to accidentally reveal personal information or leak footage you wouldn’t want others to see.

Beyond the security risks, however, is the issue of bandwidth. Streaming video of any kind consumes a large amount of data, and a person running the camera without knowing it’s on could end up reaching their data cap in a matter of hours. This can result in substantial fees and sky-high phone bills.

Since the bug was first discovered, Mozilla hasn’t gotten around to fixing it just yet. But finally, after more than a year, the company acknowledged that a fix was in the works. According to Mozilla developers, Android Firefox users can expect an update for the browser in October of this year that includes highly visible notifications when the camera is running.

It’s good news the bug is being fixed, but why October? If it’s this urgent, wouldn’t prioritizing it make more sense?

What can I do in the mean time?

If you use the Android version of Firefox to stream video, now’s the time to stop. The glitch will continue to be present until at least October, so switching to a different app for livestreaming would be the best way to stay safe.

Apps like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram all have livestream capabilities. But unlike when you open your stream in Mozilla’s web browser, your data is at the mercy of Google and Facebook instead. Tap or click here to see how you can stop Facebook from stalking you across the web.

Otherwise, you’ll have to force quit the app in order to kill the camera. This is totally safe to do, but force quitting your web browser may close out any additional tabs you had open.

The method for force closing apps will vary depending on which model you have, so here’s a brief overview on how to do it:

  1. View the running apps on your device by either:
    • Swipe up from the bottom of the screen midway. If your app drawer opens, you went too far.
    • Tap the square icon on the bottom of the screen.
    • Press the physical button on the bottom of your device that looks like two rectangles.
    • On Samsung Galaxy products, press the Recent Apps button to the left of the Home button.
  2. Swipe up and down (or left and right, depending on your phone) to find the app you want to force quit.
  3. Swipe up on the app you want to quit.

Once the app is closed, you can test to make sure things are in working order by opening up your camera app. If you see things as normal and can record video, you’re in the clear.

As scary of a flaw as this is, we do continue to recommend Firefox for your computer’s web browser. To date, it’s still one of the only mainstream browsers to make privacy a priority. Tap or click here to how Firefox activates this secure encryption feature by default.

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