Security researcher Patrick Wardle yesterday spotted that the Shazam app keeps the Mac’s microphone switched on even when the app is set to off. Wardle’s blog post noted that the app doesn’t process audio data in any way when it is set to off, and stated that he was ‘conflicted on whether or not this is a big deal.’ But the publicity seems to have spooked Shazam, which has now said that it will change this behavior, even though it will deliver a worse experience for users.
Shazam acknowledged that Wardle was correct: the app does indeed continue to leave the mic open when Shazam’s toggle is set to ‘off,’ but VP James Pearson explained both why this was done and why the company doesn’t believe it creates a security risk.
There is no privacy issue since the audio is not processed unless the user actively turns the app ‘ON.’ If the mic wasn’t left on, it would take the app longer to both initialize the mic and then start buffering audio, and this is more likely to result in a poor user experience where users ‘miss out’ on a song they were trying to identify.
This approach supported the company’s pitch when it first launched the Mac app that it ‘operates magically in the background, ready to name that tune at a moment’s notice.’
The piece initially seemed to be just an interesting tech analysis, with Pearson telling Motherboard that the company did ‘not have any reason to make changes’ to the app. The company’s chief product officer Fabio Santini further elaborated to CNET on why they didn’t see reason for concern.
Santini told us that even if a hacker could get hold of that data, it still wouldn’t let them eavesdrop on your personal conversations: Shazam just samples a few points along the audio wave to create a digital “fingerprint” that it matches against other “fingerprints” in the company’s music database. “Those points can’t be reverse-engineered to reconstruct original audio,” he tells us.
But it seems the company doesn’t want to risk bad PR, and Santini went on to say that the company would now be changing the app’s behavior after all.
Even though we don’t recognize a meaningful risk, we want to make this configuration change to show that we care, and we pay attention, and we want them to feel good about using Shazam on their Mac.
The downgrade should be arriving on your Mac in the next few days … If you’re not already using Shazam for Mac, you can grab it from the Mac App Store or Shazam’s own site.