John Cusack says iPhones spy on their owners: ‘It’s not that I’m paranoid’

John Cusack

John Cusack has a new interview with the Guardian where he grumbles a lot in an endearing way. He’s 48 now. It’s bizarre to realize that Lloyd Dobler is now a middle aged guy who may no longer possess the upper body strength to stalk a girl via boombox. He’d just ring the doorbell.

John’s promoting his role in David Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars, a satire on Hollywood culture. Cusack plays a millionaire self-help guru who specializes in a cocktail therapy involving Freud-speak and deep-tissue massage. The film follows coping mechanisms of those who struggle to juggle fame, the studio system, and private lives. The Guardian calls Maps a “fever dream of modern celebrity.” It sounds interesting and also stars Sparkles and Julianne Moore. I’ve already covered Cusack’s statements on the nature of child stardom. Here he talks about his own experience with fame with a hefty dose of humor. He’s also railing against the misogyny of Hollywood:

His “fan” encounter at a White Sox game: “In the next box over there was a gorgeous girl – young, but she was looking right at me. Ohhhh … she’s going to come and meet me and I’m gonna … you know …’ I was going to be really flattered. And she was, like: ‘I have to take a picture of you! You’re my mom’s favourite actor.”

His Maps character: “LA seems to be a place where a guy can say he’s a ‘life-coach-channeller-masseur.’ It just seems to be ripe with all these frontier crazies. People are looking to turn their pain into beautiful art, but they also want to be famous. And there’s so much money — so of course all the predators come in.”

How much of the film reflects his own experience? “Almost everything. I got another 15, 20 years before they say I’m old. For women it’s brutal. [The] thing about if you’re 26, you’re menopausal? It’s only absurd because it’s a little bit further than the truth. I have actress friends who are being put out to pasture at 29. They just want to open up another can of hot 22. It’s becoming almost like kiddie pr0n. It’s f***ing weird. It’s a wh*rehouse and people go mad”

He adores Sparkles: “I think it’s very wise — and speaks highly of Robert [Pattinson] that he’s formed a thing with David. He can try to be good and have a space where he’s not just this product that’s going to be followed around by TMZ. That speaks to the healthier instincts of the guy. I don’t know if there’s that space for other people.”

He gets a little political: “We could argue now that we don’t have a functioning democracy. I would. That’s why I picked [Twitter] to fight. I know that this [he grimaces at my iPhone] can be turned into a microphone and they can be taping our conversations right now. It’s not that I’m paranoid. I know it.”

On film critics’ distaste of contemporary film: “Why wouldn’t you have contempt for the movie business? It sucks most of the time. My friend Joe Roth ran Disney [until 2000]. He made things like The Rock and Con Air to make shareholders happy, but then he also gave six or seven slots to people he liked. I got to make High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank. Spike Lee got to make Summer of Sam. Wes Anderson got to make Rushmore. I had that memory of film and that’s gone.”

[From The Guardian]

I love that John says, “It’s not that I’m paranoid” when talking about the privacy issues involved with smartphones. We’ve already seen what can happen when iCloud gets hacked. Is there potential for other privacy invasions? Sure. I don’t know if “they” could activate a mic to tape conversations without a phone call, but it’s not inconceivable. Laptops can certainly be used that way. In 2010, a Philly school district paid out a $610,000 settlement after (allegedly) remotely activating webcams to spy on students. Cusack sounds paranoid, but his words are steeped in the reality of our times. Apple has been trying to assure users that the iPhone 6 cannot be accessed remotely by the NSA or by Apple, but as infuriating as this seems to be to law enforcement agencies, it’s not reassuring to all users.

John Cusack

Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet & WENN

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87 Responses to “John Cusack says iPhones spy on their owners: ‘It’s not that I’m paranoid’”

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  1. NewWester says:

    I would not be surprised about the IPhone. There are already features on it that can track your location unless you turn them off. It is scary stuff

    • Ripley says:

      I was lost in Doha today and my iPhone went from 40% to dead in 2 minutes so that was fun. Luckily I had pulled up my destination on Google maps on my iPad prior to leaving and so pulled it up just to get an idea as to where I was going. I then realized without any internet at I was IN MY CAR that the little locator was moving when we were moving. It was fabulously scary. Fabulous because we figured out where we were and how to get to our destination. Fabulously scary because there wasn’t internet and I don’t have 3G on my iPad. So, yes, I agree with Mr. Dobler. And I love him even more.

    • llc says:

      Cellphones have had this capacity for years. It is part of the emergency/911 system.

    • Nerdista says:

      It’s not that he says it CAN happen it’s that he thinks it IS happening. To him. Because he criticizes the government. This dude IS paranoid, he’s on Twitter and he is a wackadoodle.

  2. Carrie says:

    That thing with the webcams and spying on students still freaks me out.

    • Gea says:

      Not to be paranoid, it is true. It is a very well known fact that iPhone, iPad and few other Apple devices and some of those smartphones have that special chip /tracking / locator Inserted. Removing batteries doesn’t really effect chip because it runs on simulator.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      Yes, it is true.
      But it isn’t just Apple/apple products that could film you without your knowledge. Remember Teen Miss USA of 2013 had a guy hack into her computer in her room and took photos of her via her webcam as she got ready in her room, like most girls do.

      An IT person told me that even a computer that is turned off but is plugged in is vulnerable. They can be used as “Zombie” computers for hackers.

  3. mel says:

    I have no illusions about the our privacy and smartphones. I think “they” could absolutely listen in on us.

    I know a retired special kind of guy who tapes up his webcam holes and who has said for years that a phone can turn into a 2 way listening device. I used to laugh at him but not so much anymore.

    • starrywonder says:

      Yep. Friends with way too many government spook people so the only thing I know that can truly disable your phone is taking out the battery and smashing it with a hammer. You can still listen and track people with the battery out.

      • cr says:

        And it’s not new.
        Waaay back in 2000 a reporter did an interview with a member of the Serbian opposition who made sure that everyone’s cell phone batteries were removed before the interview took place. Reporter thought the man was being paranoid.
        He gets back to the States, talks to one of his contacts in the spy business, who tells him, ‘oh yeah, take out the battery. Its much harder to trace/bug without the battery.’ The reporter had no idea that could be done.
        And that was with ‘dumb’ phones.

      • alexc says:

        This is true. Have a friend whose wife works for the FBI. They bought a new car and were testing it out really fast late one night. She got a call on her phone from her bosses asking why she was speeding and was she ok. He said her phone can track her anywhere even without the battery so no doubt it could record conversations.

      • mimf says:

        @alexc Uggggh creepy story.

    • sally says:

      I definitely believe it too. I had a work Iphone 4s a few years ago. One time I was in the car with the phone off/in my purse… talking to my mom and sister about my cousin’s upcoming wedding. suddenly siri starts talking and says “i had added wedding on april 14 at 4pm” it was genuinely creepy.

  4. Dani2 says:

    See, a year ago I would’ve said he was being paranoid but with all this iCloud hacking stuff, I can’t say that anymore because I definitely have moments of paranoia with my iPhone myself. A couple months back, an online petition was started to stop a Facebook chat update that would basically mean that Facebook would have access to your phones iPhone even if you weren’t using it at the time. It’s little things like this that mean that I have to somewhat agree with him, I’m starting to feel like technology is becoming more intrusive than ever.

    • LAK says:

      I remain gobsmacked at the civil liberties violations that social media pretend is their right to make in order for the public to have social media accounts. And the public willingly and thoughtlessly hands it over. And that’s the tip of the iceberg as far as privacy issues are concerned.

      • Alergnon says:

        I was recently binge-watching West Wing on Netflix and Sam Seaborne had a great line: “This is next great fight: privacy.” And that was back in 2001-2002.

        I try not to be a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that one day something dark and awful will crawl out of the darknet and we’re all going to take a giant step back from technology.

      • mimif says:

        ITA. I’ve said it before, I’m completely distrusting of technology and constantly monitor my settings on my iPhone. Now with net nuetrality being compromised, I feel like it won’t be long before we are told how we can use the web (or how it will use us).

  5. Regina Lynx says:

    Well… they do.

    • StormsMama says:


      Now as for the White Sox anecdote hahha I have to laugh. I just LOVE that the girl said he was her mother’s favorite actor. CLASSIC. He is 48 and- like he said- in LA he’s still “young” and eligible !!! But in the “real world” I’d bet the average twenty something would say he was “old”. I just love that anecdote!

      ps Obviously I STILL WOULD. ALWAYS.

    • Irishserra says:

      Yep. And it’s not just Apple.

  6. Sixer says:

    Wasn’t there a thing in all the Snowden leaks that while we were all being told not to buy Chinese routers because of spying, it was actually the NSA putting backdoors into American routers? I can’t be bothered to search but I’m sure I recall that. I fear it’s not just the iPhone.

    I suppose the stealing of Jennifer Lawrence’s virtual ladyparts and other celeb photo heists are the least of our worries really. How awful is that?

    • Lolo-ology says:

      Yup, but I think it was mainly laptops. The NSA was intercepting new purchases between the warehouse and the buyer’s front door, installing the malware, and resealing it like nothing happened. The irony of the government warning against buying from Chinese manufacturers bc they could be doing that exact same thing quickly turned into suspicion that it was just a tactic to get more consumers to buy American equipment that they could intercept like this.

  7. JM says:

    I don’t think John is paranoid at all. Welcome to 1984. Big Brother IS watching.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      Not just “big brother” aka the government, but hackers looking for financial information or pervs looking for webcams to hijack.

  8. Zapp Brannigan says:

    There was a story in the media (The Daily Mail, yeah I know) a little while ago that a womans webcam was remotely activated and the hacker on the other end was watching her in her home, she was just going about her day. Its not paranoid anymore to be extra vigilant. Adjusts tin foil hat.

  9. MrsBPitt says:

    These days, NOTHING WOULD SURPRISE ME! Good thing my life is so boring, that anybody listening to me, would be snoozing within seconds!

    • Azurea says:

      That’s part of the problem, saying nobody would want to watch you, with all due respect
      MrsBPitt. The whole point is that human beings are deserving of privacy, and by developing this technology, governments are breaking their own laws. It’s more than outrageous, & we need to demand that this be stopped.

      • Kiddo says:

        Agreed. Plus there is guilt by association and by Kevin Bacon degrees. I’m too lazy to look, but there are instances where your feet can be held to the fire for having remote connections to people through other people and the government can shake you down and make life miserable until you deliver information on them. Which you may not have, but then will be compelled to get, under duress.

      • Nicolette says:

        Technology is great for some things, but at what cost? We have lost the right to privacy which is as basic as it gets. And @MrsBPitt whether you think your life is boring or not, they shouldn’t be listening in to find that out. I agree with you 100% in saying nothing would surprise me anymore. It’s incredible that in this day and age we have to watch what we say in the land of the free.

      • Sixer says:


        Yes. There’s the Lavabit saga, where the guy whose secure email service was used by Snowden had to shut his business down. I might get the precise detail wrong but something to do with him being prepared to hand over individual emails to the court but not the actual code for encryption. The govmint wanted his code – but that would leave his secure email service insecure. Thus depriving people with perfectly legitimate and uncontroversial reasons for wanting secure email (business dealings, patents, a simple wish for personal privacy, whatever) from being able to access a service. And costing the guy a fortune.

      • Kiddo says:

        Plus, because everything they do is considered ‘highly classified’, try to defend yourself in court without access to evidence. And NO ONE is watching the watchers to police what they are doing.

      • mimf says:

        @Kiddo, did you ever check out ProtonMail? I’m waiting for an invite.

      • Kiddo says:

        @mimf, I have it saved, but how would I invite you without your email? And No one should put their email address out in the public on this forum.

      • mimf says:

        Oh god no, Kiddo. You have to go to the ProtonMail invite page and request an invite. They’ve been inundated with requests and their server can’t accompany them all yet, so not sure what the wait is. I would link but my links don’t usually go through (cough bongos cough), but it’s easily searched for online. Anyway, I thought you might find the premise interesting more than anything.

      • Kiddo says:

        @mimf. thanks for explaining the complexities. :P.

        I wish we had DM, here. But then the site would end up being run with more trackers, the more complex the commenting system becomes.

      • mimf says:

        Ha! Yeah I wish we could DM too, but then…can you imagine? Half of our best posts would be private. 😉

      • Kiddo says:

        @mimf, nothing would ever get accomplished.

      • mimif says:

        +eleventy billion. I’m barely getting anything accomplished as it is. 🙋

  10. Tippy says:

    If “they” can activate a microphone on a smartphone, then they can also surreptitiously activate the camera.

    The government has been eavesdropping on random telephone conversations ever since they were invented.

  11. Sara says:

    you are not paranoid when they are actually watching you.

    there are a lot of famous people who said they were being watched and they were seen as conspiracy theorists . John Lennon said the FBI watched him. it was later revealed it was true. Martin Luther King said the CIA wrote him letters to commit suicide. it was later revealed it was true.

    John Lennon was apparently a threat to the national security because he sang about peace and love. And MLK was dangerous because he fought for civil rights. that tells you a lot.

    from Snowden we know now that any electronic device is watched by the US government. often even letters are opened.
    Orwell underestimated the surveillance state we have nowadays.

  12. Sea Dragon says:

    I use pretty little flower stickers to cover the camera dots on my droid. They’re slightly larger than the dots themselves and go largely unnoticed. If anyone wanted to spy they wouldn’t find an inch of anything interesting but that’s not the point. I can’t do anything about the (miniscule) possibility that spying could occur but at least I can feel confident that I’m not being watched if it happens.

    • Azurea says:

      However, you can be listened to…. And it’s not just phone & laptops. All new appliances are equipped with spying technology, as are smart meters.

  13. Mom2two says:

    I don’t think he is being paranoid at all. I like this interview with him, especially since he observes how Hollywood treats actresses.

  14. Kiddo says:

    Pretty much everything technology-based is spying on you.

    • Lilacflowers says:

      And it has been used to solve crimes/find bodies. It is creepy and scary and has bad uses and good uses and these are choices we all must learn to make.

      • Kiddo says:

        Yeah, but in the old days, you needed court orders. I say stick with that instead of assuming the entire population are criminals.

      • Venus says:


        “It is creepy and scary and has bad uses and good uses and these are choices we all must learn to make”

        Except it’s not our choice to make. We aren’t able to choose between a smartphone that won’t potentially spy on us and one we know will. Or a webcam that can’t be accessed remotely vs. one that can. We are not permitted to make that decision. That’s the problem.

  15. Chris says:

    I agree with what he said about us not having a functioning democracy. The sad fact is that in the US, UK and Australia you have big business running TV networks and telling people they have a choice between this party, that’s beholden to big business, or that party, that’s beholden to big business. And the vast majority do as they’re told and pick one or the other.

    • Kiddo says:

      +1. And big business has them selected for us even before given the choices.

      • Tiffany :) says:

        That is true…but at the same time, only around 10% of the US population votes in primaries! That means 90% of people are WILLINGLY handing over the selection process to the parties aka the status quo.

    • Steph says:

      Exactly. Corporations have taken over everything from media to Hollywood to bloggers to politicians. We now live in a Corportocracy or Oligharchy where the billionaires control everything. Democracy is pretty much dead.

    • Sixer says:

      I read a Chomsky interview recently where he said there’s a one party state in the US. It’s the business party and it has two factions (R & D) arguing minute policy points between each other. Some research coming out of a British university for the 2010 general election analysed 100 of the main policy points. Of those, the three main parties (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat) had the same standpoint as each other on 84 of them. 84!

    • sadezilla says:

      Totally agree! The vote means little when there’s no difference between the choices on the ballot. My dad is always spamming his entire contacts list demanding we vote out the incumbents to “fix” the system. This argument drives me nuts because if the system is broken, how will replacing one figurehead with another change things for the better?

  16. Samanthalous says:

    I worked for a govt official that never carried a phone, he carried a burner phone for emergencies only.

  17. Nicolette says:

    I’ve joked for years that the cable boxes probably have some camera watching us without us knowing. As time goes by, it doesn’t seem that far fetched anymore.

    • floridaseaturtle says:

      I am pretty sure I read that the Xbox has spyware. And can count heads in the room, supposedly for Pay Per View reasons.

  18. kri says:

    I love JC. Always interesting observations. And, yes…privacy as we knew it 20 years ago is dead.

    • mimf says:

      Me too. Everything he said here was spot on.

      • kri says:

        mimif, are you serving any new cocktails this weekend? I need some good stuff for my”Anaconda” drunk choreography party. I will have an Iphone in the room so that the world can see it.

      • mimf says:

        Lol kri, I was just secretly filming my bf who was watching survelliance of people’s reactions to watching that vid. I think in this instance, there’s no need for fancy drinks, we better go for straight up shots.

        P.S. I’ve got your coordinates and will live blogging your drunk choreography party. 😀

  19. Marianne says:

    Any phone can be hacked into. Doesnt matter if its an iphone, android or blackberry.Same goes with laptops.

  20. Lola says:

    I think is very possible if you know how to use the technology. I mean, there has to be some sort of reality behind shows like Person of Interest. Reality is weirder than fiction. People forget that smartphones are mini computers, and you basically have to install a antivirus or malware right off the box. Granted not all smartphones have an antivirus design for it, yet.

  21. RobN says:

    At this point, the crazy people are the ones who don’t think they can be listened to.

  22. Mitch Buchanan Rocks! says:

    These devices are biologically active. We as a society need to go back to Landlines and eliminate chemical products like Febreeze( and have Real fresh air not chemical lavender scented ‘fresh’ air) Driving will improve and Cancer rates will go down.

  23. Mischa Jane says:

    I think any smartphone could spy on its owner, not just an iPhone. I have no illusions that my iPhone is not watching me somehow. If you have Location Services enabled, it’s most certainly at least watching that.

    • Lola says:

      Have you seen the new I Phone commercial or more to the point Verizon commercial … yup, Siri knew she was going to be traded!!! 🙂

  24. Izzy says:

    Creepy, but true. I have disabled the webcam on my laptop.

    Dear Whoever Is Using My Smartphone To Spy On Me: I hope you enjoy the 537 photos and 27 videos of my dog.

    • Kiddo says:

      I have disabled it by covering it up physically. If someone can access your computer remotely, I would assume they could activate it, change settings on their own.

    • jwoolman says:

      Me, too! Except it’s photos and videos of cats. In particular, videos of Junior Cat thwarting the security system (misnamed catproof fence), so I am now going into debt for an alleged more catproof system. Film at 11.

      In other news, today mouse gets tired of being poked and prodded and carried around and chased by Junior Cat, waits patiently just outside the fence, then comes back in and lunges at Junior before escaping through the fence again to laugh at Junior. Really. No lie. No video either, unfortunately.

  25. Dani says:

    There is an app that can be secretly added to many smartphones (iphone included) and it hides in the software. It can use the phone as a microphone, the camera to view what is going on around you, and the person on the other end who installed the app can also see all text messages, emails, etc (anything that is on the phone) I work for Verizon and have had a few customers come in that were concerned they had this on their phone but even more worrisome my boyfriend told me one of his acquaintances showed him how he was watching his girlfriend with it.

    • mimf says:

      Wow, that acquaintance is a creep.
      What about remote key loggers, have you ever had people ask you about them?

  26. Ella says:

    This makes me think about that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where Sarah has just been in a movie about cell phones that turn against their owners.

    Aldous: Why would a mobile phone kill you?
    Sarah: It’s a metaphor, for, you know … society ….
    Aldous: It’s a metaphor for a crap movie.

  27. d says:

    He’s not being paranoid, he’s being realistic. Paranoid is thinking that whenever I travel, customs will stop me to ask my about my gossip website viewing habits because of no logical reason whatsoever. But I do also cover up my laptop camera with a post-it. Although no one will ever see anything besides me working, eating my dinner in front of the computer, or falling asleep on the couch during a netflix viewing. My phone: mostly cats and flowers.
    Despite BlackBerry’s issues, most government people that I know of/heard of, use BB for their work phones, mostly because of the supposedly more secure phone and data something something…their IT people always recommended it over the other smartphones, even when people preferred to use iPhones or whatever. You’re right in stating that most smartphones nowadays are essentially little computers with phone technology with virtually no protection like you would have on laptops or desktop computers. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it.

  28. melain says:

    Just to add to the creepy info here…I had a roommate who worked for a giant technology company as a developer. She insisted that we block the cable box from view and turn it off at night. She said the box scanned product bar codes and ran a script sending that data to the cable company. She didn’t work for the cable company but for the company who manufactured the device.

  29. Aminta says:

    I don’t doubt for one second that a phone that is connected to the Internet, with cameras on BOTH sides (so even when you’re looking at your phone or have it on a table/desk in front of you it can always see you), location tracker, notepad for your thoughts, and obviously a microphone is spying on us. I just hope that they are finding the “bad guys” this way and not just spying for financial gain & power.

    This phone is so creepy, dude.