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Mac users, update Zoom now — your microphone may be spying on you [updated]

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(Image credit: Zoom)

UPDATED to add statement from Zoom.

If you're using Zoom on a Mac, make sure your Zoom desktop client software is updated to version 5.9.3, issued Jan. 25. That's because older versions may keep the Mac's microphone turned on and listening even after a Zoom meeting has ended.

"Why is the Zoom app listening on my microphone when not in a meeting?," asked user aaronklein in a Zoom support forum in mid-December. 

"Several times in the last few weeks, I've noticed the orange dot indicating the microphone is being used by an app, and I click on the Control Center and see that Zoom is accessing the microphone," wrote aaronklein, who said their Mac was running macOS 12 Monterey. "I'm not in a meeting and simply have the Zoom app open. Why would Zoom be accessing the microphone when I'm not in a meeting?"

Other users on the thread reported the same thing, and said diagnostic apps had confirmed that the microphone really did stay on, not just the indicator light. They had to close the Zoom client app entirely to turn the microphone off.

First patch didn't quite take

Zoom pushed out a patch Dec. 27 to update the Mac desktop client to version 5.9.1 and fix "an issue regarding the microphone light indicator being triggered when not in a meeting on macOS Monterey." But that didn't seem to work.

"Staring at the orange dot now while not on a Zoom meeting. Very frustrating," wrote user apireno on the same thread, who said that the update made no difference. "Zoom, please stop spying on me."

We don't really think Zoom is trying to spy on Mac users, despite some of the more heated discussions in the support thread and a related discussion on Y Combinator's Hacker News forum.

How to fix this issue on your Mac

In any case, a Zoom moderator wrote in the support thread that version 5.9.3 fixed the issue for real. The complaints dropped off after that, although no one volunteered to confirm the good news. 

We at Tom's Guide tried it out on a test Mac and can confirm that the orange light does go out now after a Zoom meeting ends.

The only issue is that the update to version 5.9.3 may not be automatic. Zoom's release notes indicate that this is a "manual" update that users will have to download from the Zoom site and install manually. 

That's as opposed to a "prompted" update which will either update automatically when the Zoom client is started, or prompt you to start the update. 

If you're interested in more Zoom security and privacy issues, we've got you covered.

Update: Zoom statement

After this story was first posted, Zoom sent us this statement, in full:

"The Zoom client for macOS 5.9.3, released on January 25, 2022, fixed a bug involving the failure to properly terminate the microphone use post-meeting. Zoom has determined that this bug did not result in audio data being transmitted back to Zoom's platform. As always, we recommend users make sure their Zoom client is updated to the latest version."

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.