AirTag and Unwanted Tracking: Apple Releases New Privacy Updates
Apple's response to AirTag stalking problem
- Following recent reports of AirTags being used in nefarious ways to stalk people or their belongings without consent, Apple has announced a series of changes to combat the misuse of AirTag and keep users protected.
- As part of these updates, Apple will offer new privacy warnings during AirTag setup, address alert issues for AirPods, and update its support documentation.
- In addition, it will also introduce Precision Finding, refine unwanted tracking alert logic, tune AirTag’s sound, and display an alert with sound as part of updates coming later this year.
Apple announced AirTags in 2021 as its response to popular Bluetooth tracking devices such as the Tile and the Samsung Galaxy SmartTag. AirTag works with iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch devices and leverages the vast, crowdsourced Find My network to help users locate their lost/misplaced items like keys, backpacks, wallets, or luggage.
However, there have been recent reports of AirTags being used in nefarious ways to stalk people or their belongings, like their car, without their consent. This has come across as a massive privacy nightmare for Apple, which pledges to keep user data private and secure.
In response to this, Apple has announced a series of changes to combat the misuse of AirTag and keep users protected.
Here’s what these changes are and how Apple aims to use them to prevent AirTag misuse going forward.
1. New privacy warnings during AirTag setup
The first change is planned for a future version of software—software version and release date are yet to be announced.
It’s said to be a new privacy warning to the users that will appear when users set up their AirTags for the first time. It will alert them that AirTag is meant to track their own belongings, and using it to track people without consent is a crime in many regions around the world, and that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner of an AirTag.
2. Addressing alert issues for AirPods
In line with privacy warnings, Apple is also addressing alert issues for AirPods wherein users reported receiving an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert that led them to believe that an unknown AirTag was tracking them.
As part of this update, Apple says this alert will no longer be displayed if an AirTag is detected near a user; it will only appear for AirPods (3rd gen), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or any third-party Find My network accessory. And to avoid confusion, Apple will update its alerts and specify the accessory name, like AirPods, instead of using “Unknown Accessory”.
3. Updating support documentation
Apple will also be updating its support documentation about unwanted tracking with more information on Find My accessories and their tracking alerts.
The page will include additional explanations about what may trigger an unwanted tracking alert, visuals to specify such alerts, and updated information on what to do after receiving such an alert to disable an AirTag, AirPods, or Find My network accessory.
Furthermore, the support page will also include links to resources such as the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Center for Victims of Crime, which users can contact in the event of a safety issue.
In addition to these changes, Apple is also investigating a bunch of other updates that it plans to introduce later this year. These include:
1. Precision Finding
Precision Finding is said to be a feature supported by iPhone 11 and later models that combines inputs from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope when a user moves to guide them to an AirTag via a combination of sound, haptics, and visual feedback.
Apple says this feature will enable recipients of the unwanted tracking alert to locate an unknown AirTag with precision and find its distance and direction when it’s in range.
2. Refining unwanted tracking alert logic
Apple will also be updating its tracking alert system to notify users earlier when an unknown AirTag or Find My network accessory may be traveling with them.
3. Tuning AirTag’s sound
AirTag users who receive an unwanted tracking alert can currently play a sound to find the unknown AirTag. Moving forward, Apple will be adjusting the tone sequence of this alert sound to use louder tones to make it even easier to find an unknown AirTag.
4. Display alert with sound
While playing sound on the AirTg is one way to find a missing/lost AirTag, Apple will be updating this alert system later this year to also display an alert on the device, like playing a sound or using Precision Finding, to help users find their AirTag.
When it’s available, this feature can come in handy when the AirTag goes missing in a location where it’s hard to hear or when the AirTag speaker has been tampered with.
Working With Law Enforcement to Address AirTag Misuse
As part of the announcement, Apple also highlighted working with law enforcement to address AirTag-related requests wherein it shared how sharing AirTag information (serial number, Apple ID) helped these agencies find perpetrators and prosecute them.
It’s these evaluations and discussions that have helped Apple come up with these new updates to address AirTag’s privacy and security concerns. And Apple’s said to be taking more of these inputs to update its law enforcement documentation and take other necessary actions going forward.