Shazam Backtracking After Mac App Discovered to Retain Microphone Access Even When Toggled Off

by

Music-recognizing app Shazam retains access to the Mac's microphone, keeping it in a constant on state, even when Shazam has been turned off. The potentially worrisome feature was discovered by security researcher Patrick Wardle, who developed an app called "OverSight" to warn users of when other apps are using their webcam and microphone. After its launch, one OverSight user contacted Wardle and told him Shazam kept listening even after it was toggled off in settings.

Wardle, who's also an ex-NSA hacker, reverse-engineered Shazam's Mac app and posted his findings in a personal blog. What he discovered was that the app essentially keeps the Mac's microphone on to create a snappier user experience when song detection is required, but Wardle doesn't believe there's "any malice" to the company's desktop and laptop app.

shazam-mac-app-1
In a statement sent to Motherboard, Shazam's vice president of global communications, James Pearson, confirmed that the app keeps the microphone on but "the audio is not processed unless the user actively turns the app 'ON.'" In essence, Shazam for the Mac is constantly accessing the computer's microphone, but only gaining access to audio and processing user data when turned on.

“There is no privacy issue since the audio is not processed unless the user actively turns the app ‘ON.’” James Pearson, the VP of global communications for Shazam, said in an emailed statement. ”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.”

As Wardle summed it up on his blog:

In other words what 'OFF' appears to mean, is simply, "stop processing the recorded data" ...not cease recording.

Pearson refuted the idea that the always-on microphone was a bug, reiterating that the lack of audio processing in Shazam's off state was always the company's intended purpose for that mode, saying that "the user's decision not to leverage our app's functionality is fully respected" because of it. Since the report has become more widespread, Shazam's Chief Product Officer Fabio Santini confirmed to CNET that the company will be updating the Mac app within the next few days to change how the app works, in order "to show that we care, and we pay attention, and we want them to feel good about using Shazam on their Mac."

Despite Wardle's confirmation that Shazam appears to be largely truthful, with no recorded audio being sent, saved, or processed by the company when the app is turned off, he remained wary of Shazam's failure to disclose exactly how much access it has to the Mac's microphone before his discovery. This is mostly due to the fact that, although Shazam's intentions appear wholesome, another party could design malware that resides within the app and steals its toggled-off recordings, without the user ever being warned.

Again, though it appears that Shazam is always recording even when the user has toggled it 'OFF' I saw no indication that this recorded data is ever processed (nor saved, exfiltrated, etc). However, I still don't like an app that appears to be constantly pulling audio off my computers internal mic. As such, I'm uninstalling Shazam as quickly as possible!

On iOS, users have a bit more insight into Shazam's background functionality thanks to Apple's hard-to-miss red banner that sticks to the top of the screen when an iPhone's microphone is on in another app. Wardle's main problem appears to be a lack of a similar warning for users on the Mac side of things, saying that "users should know" what has access to their computer's input devices and when.

Check out his full breakdown of the Shazam Mac app here.

Update: Shazam's Vice President for global communications James Pearson contacted MacRumors to emphasize that Shazam has not actually recorded audio using the Mac's microphone using this behavior.

Contrary to recent rumors, Shazam doesn’t record anything. Shazam accesses the microphone on devices for the exclusive purpose of obtaining a small fingerprint of a subset of the soundwaves, which are then used exclusively to find a match in Shazam’s database and then deleted.

Tag: Shazam

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
50 months ago
I want the Oversight app for my Mac now though.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
50 months ago
Shazam was pretty good in the beginning and went worse from that time on . As Mac Fly already said : It takes very long to load whatever crap , and you cant do what you would really like to do = listen and detect which song is playing right now. Until Shazam has loaded all the crap usually the song on TV or Radio is over already.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
50 months ago
Shazam is junk. You literally use it to name a only name a song and it includes 900 features no one but Shazam themselves care about. Whatever about Dropbox being a feature and not a company Shazam certainly should be. It's the antithesis, the worst of technology for me. Do said feature and do it well, don't try to have fake useless paid subscriptions and 50 tabs. Do deals with the likes of Apple and be invisible and do great work and be the best at what you do.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
50 months ago
So it drains your battery instead of loading slower. Sounds great!! Not!
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
50 months ago
All those apps that listen in the background can be exploited in the future.

Shazam for iOS improved considerably. Now you open the app and you see ONLY the button to find the tune. They removed all that useless crap. Worth a check if you uninstalled the app recently.

Or you can simply ask Siri and go to iTunes app to check history to see the songs Siri recognised.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
Updated on September 22nd with hands on video. In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of...

iPhone 12 Lineup Rumored to Be Named 'iPhone 12 mini,' 'iPhone 12,' 'iPhone 12 Pro,' and 'iPhone 12 Pro Max'

Monday September 21, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared the alleged naming for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup on Twitter. The tweet proposes that the upcoming iPhone 12 models will be titled "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." The names likely correspond to the three expected sizes of iPhone 12, with the 5.4-inch model being the iPhone 12 mini, the 6.7-inch model ...

PSA: New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop

Monday September 21, 2020 3:26 pm PDT by
With the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple introduced two new band options, the Solo Loop and the Braided Solo Loop. These new bands are unique because they have no clasps, buckles, or other fasteners, and instead use a stretch design to allow them to pull onto the wrist over the hand. Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person...

Apple Releases First Public Betas of iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 With New Shazam Control Center Options

Monday September 21, 2020 10:34 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the first public betas of upcoming iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates to its public beta testing group, a few days after seeding the first betas to developers and a little less than a week after releasing the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates. Public beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing program can download the iOS and iPadOS‌ 14.2 updates over the air after ...

Kuo: Apple to Accelerate Adoption of Mini-LED Displays in iPad and Mac Notebook Lineups

Sunday September 20, 2020 10:00 pm PDT by
Increased competition among Apple's suppliers for mini-LED display chips will accelerate the company's adoption of the advanced technology in its iPad and MacBook lineups, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seen by MacRumors. Kuo says that while Epistar had been predicted to be the exclusive supplier of mini-LED chips for Apple products in 2021, Sanan Optoelectronics...

AirPods Studio Rumored to Come With U1 Chip, Ultra-Wideband Said to Be Vital to Future Apple Ecosystem

Sunday September 20, 2020 6:17 am PDT by
Proven leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared a range of information about the ultra-wideband U1 chip in Apple's upcoming AirTags item trackers and AirPods Studio headphones. The first of a series of tweets shared today simply stated that AirPods Studio will contain an ultra-wideband U1 chip. It seems likely that the U1 chip would be used in AirPods Studio to track the location of...

AT&T Already Working on 6G, Says 5G iPhones Might Not Be 'Massive Event' Due to Economic Uncertainty

Monday September 21, 2020 10:05 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming launch of 5G iPhones might not be a "massive event" due to economic uncertainty amid the global health crisis, AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh said in a paywalled interview published by CNBC. "I do believe that you will see many of the iPhone subscribers move to upgrade to the device," said McElfresh. "But I wouldn't forecast that it's going to be a massive event. I...

Microsoft Announces Outlook for Mac Redesign, Improvements to iOS and watchOS Apps

Tuesday September 22, 2020 8:56 am PDT by
Microsoft has today announced plans to bring a new design to its Outlook for Mac app along with several other improvements and features for Outlook on iOS and watchOS. In preparation for the public release of macOS Big Sur, Microsoft has been testing a new design for Outlook on Mac. The design includes Microsoft's Fluent icons and several design cues from Big Sur such as rounded corners....

iOS 14 Adoption Surpasses 25% Across iPhone and iPad Five Days After Release

Monday September 21, 2020 9:06 am PDT by
Five days after Apple released iOS 14, adoption of the software update has reached approximately 26 percent of active iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices, according to mobile analytics company Mixpanel. This includes iPadOS 14. iOS 14 adoption appears to be outpacing iOS 13, which was installed on approximately 20 percent of active devices one week after its release last year, according to...

When Will the iPhone 12 Launch? Here's What We Know

Wednesday September 16, 2020 6:12 am PDT by
Yesterday's "Time Flies" Apple event saw the release of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad 8, and iPad Air 4, but no new iPhone models. Rumors before the event strongly alleged that it would not see the unveiling of new iPhones, with many reports pointing to an October launch. The lack of new iPhone models yesterday seems to confirm that the iPhone 12 lineup will not appear...