Apple boosts AirTag privacy after criminal incidents | Cult of Mac

Apple boosts AirTag privacy after criminal incidents


AirTags seemed so innocent and helpful at first.
AirTags seemed so innocent and helpful at first.
Photo: Apple

Apple said in a statement Thursday it will update AirTags item trackers with new privacy warnings, better warning sounds and smarter Find My tracking. The efforts comes as the company tries to improve security in the wake of criminal activity involving the devices, such as theft and stalking.

It’s the latest of several privacy updates Cupertino announced for AirTags since releasing them last year.

Apple statement about AirTags privacy improvements

The company said the software updates will display new warnings to people when they first set up AirTags. The warnings advise them that using technology to track people without consent is a crime in many places. A warning also notes Apple designed AirTags in a way that enables law enforcement to request the owner’s identity.

“We design our products to provide a great experience, but also with safety and privacy in mind,” Apple said. “We’re committed to listening to feedback and innovating to make improvements that continue to guard against unwanted tracking.”

Upon releasing AirTags last year at $29 apiece, Apple promoted the small devices as a simple way to find lost items, like keys and knapsacks, with the help of Find My technology. The company also emphasized AirTags’ security at the time, stating each tag employs a frequently changing ID code and encrypted communication to frustrate hackers and unwanted trackers.

Now come further adjustments to bolster security. Privacy and victims rights advocates have been vocal about AirTags abuse.

Previous efforts

In June of 2021, Apple updated AirTags with new software meant to deter abuse.  It decreased the amount of time before an AirTag alerts a non-owner to its presence as a potentially unwanted tracking device. The company chopped the period down from three days to between 8 and 24 hours.

Later, in December, Apple launched a free Tracker Detect app for Android phones. It let people scan for nearby Find My devices that were separated from their owners for at least 10 minutes.

Further enhancements

Apple said the coming software updates will make it easier to find an unwanted AirTag using precision-finding technology. When searching for a device, it places a compass-like arrow on a phone’s screen and indicates distance and direction of the unknown AirTag.

In addition, a visual alert will be paired with the alert sound, for use in noisy conditions or in case someone has disabled the AirTag’s speaker.

The company also said it will adjust the “tone sequence” of AirTag noises that warn people of potential unwanted tracking. More of the the “loudest tones” will make the device more findable, Apple noted.

Cupertino said it also plans to look at the “unknown accessory” warnings that can appear on phones. Apple said AirPods appear to be responsible for some of those warnings, so they will now identify as AirPods rather than “unknown accessory” to make it more clear what’s in the vicinity.

To help people learn more about AirTags privacy, Apple updated its online support documents. It aims to enable users to control location settings on their phones. The materials also help people understand the different types of alerts they might get from an AirTag or other Find My devices. Readers will also find links to victims organizations in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.


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