Tech

Using a camera cover on a new MacBook? It could break the screen

If you want to cover your webcam, maybe just use some tape.

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The latest MacBook Pros are vulnerable to display damage when a privacy cover is installed over the camera. The problem is now sufficiently widespread that Apple recommends against installing any covers thicker than a sheet of printer paper.

Apple's latest 16-inch MacBook Pro has a very thin bezel and display, which seems to be why the latest generation is at a greater risk of damage with even the smallest amount of force. Just when Apple's fixed the keyboard problem that's plagued half a decade's worth of Macs, there's a fresh problem on its hands.

The issue seems to be that there's a very small clearance between the display and the keyboard when the MacBook is closed. Think about it: what you're doing is putting a piece of hard plastic on a glass screen and then closing it between two pieces of metal that have been designed to fit perfectly together. Customers have reported seeing their displays crack after installing the common plastic camera covers that can be slid from side to side to reveal or obscure the webcam.

Not a cheap fix – Fixing a display cracked by a screen cover should be covered by AppleCare+. If you don't have that, though, screen replacements range anywhere from $455 to $755. Because of Apple's T2 security chip present in newer MacBooks, you can't have your screen replaced by anyone but an Apple-authorized technician (though, remarkably, Apple is now allowing people to upgrade the SSD in Macs themselves).

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Tape never fails – Apple says that the camera in its laptops has been engineered so that it cannot be accessed without the green indicator light turning on. Also, macOS also requires apps to request permission before they can access the camera. That's not reassuring enough for some folks, so you might just want to place some good old fashioned electrical tape over the camera when you're not using it.

You might feel that it's just paranoia to cover the camera, but when even the former FBI director James Comey is doing it, maybe you should too. “You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen,” he said in an interview. “You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing.”

Then again he's a far more likely hacking target than most of us.