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There’s no doubt that the popularity of Apple’s AirTags has raised concerns over the ability to misuse technology for stalking and unwanted tracking of other people and their belongings.
However, it’s also fair to say that AirTags haven’t created a new problem – affordable GPS trackers and similar tools have been on the market for well over a decade. With the introduction of AirTags, Apple has merely illuminated — rather brightly — the ways in which these sorts of products can be abused.
In fact, it’s rather ironic that the AirTag has gathered so much negative attention, considering Apple was the first company to introduce any kind of anti-stalking features into its tags — something that competitors like Tile and Samsung hadn’t even thought of.
Unfortunately, despite Apple’s efforts, groups that advocate against domestic violence criticized Apple early on for not doing enough to prevent stalking.
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To be fair, they had some valid complaints. For instance, as they were originally released, only iPhone users with iOS 14.5 or later would receive any indication that an AirTag may be moving around with them.
For those without an iPhone, Apple had included an audible alert feature, but this wouldn’t sound until the AirTag had been separated from its owner for three days. That allows more than enough time for a stalker to track down a victim’s home address, or an abusive spouse to determine where their partner was hiding out.
Apple was quick to adjust course on this, reducing the time window for the audible alert to hours, rather than days, and eventually releasing an Android app that could at least be used to scan for nearby AirTags.
Despite this, however, the little tags have continued to get something of a bad rap. Even though in numerous instances, that’s a result of the anti-stalking features working as designed — many reports are from people discovering AirTags planted on them because of Apple’s alerts — it’s still enough to worry many people. So, Apple is acting to quell some of these fears.
Apple released a statement today to provide an update on what it’s doing with AirTags to prevent unwanted tracking, announcing new steps to raise public awareness, new warning screens, and new features that should help to prevent AirTags from being used for malicious purposes.
In the statement, Apple makes a point of reminding everyone that it’s already been well ahead of the game in providing security features, noting that it “innovated with the first-ever proactive system to alert you of unwanted tracking.”
The company also notes that it’s been working closely with safety groups and law enforcement to find ways to both update AirTag safety warnings and “guard against further unwanted tracking.”
Without going into details, Apple also adds that it has already “successfully partnered” with law enforcement to provide information to trace AirTags back to perpetrators who were “apprehended and charged” as a result.
Apple has announced several more practical changes that it will be bringing to both AirTags and its overall Find My Network, including new privacy warnings, improved alerts, and better documentation and communication as to how these features work.
Apple says that the changes above will arrive in an upcoming software update, likely iOS 15.4, but that only reflects its immediate plans, as there are several other things that Apple plans to introduce later this year.
Apple hasn’t offered any specifics about when these last few changes will be coming, beyond “later this year.” While tweaking the alert tones will likely require an AirTag firmware update, most of the other improvements should be baked into a future iOS release.
Alerts and notifications are generated by an iPhone when it detects an unknown AirTag. These aren’t dependent on the AirTag’s firmware, which means that there’s actually no way for somebody to hack an AirTag to disable these alerts.
Meanwhile, you can read more about how to deal with AirTags in Apple’s updated support article. Should you discover an unknown AirTag that’s been planted on you or your belongings, go to a safe location and contact law enforcement immediately, as there’s a very good chance that whoever planted that AirTag already has your current location.