Apple yesterday announced upcoming AirTag updates designed to combat stalking and other unwanted tracking.
“AirTag is designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or other people’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products,” Apple said. Thieves have used AirTags to track high-end cars and stalkers have used the devices to track women. Apple’s update yesterday acknowledged that the company has “seen reports of bad actors trying to abuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes”.
AirTags already have some security features, such as making beeping sounds when they’ve been away from their paired devices for a day. iPhones also get warnings about unknown AirTags nearby. But the beep can be hard to hear and the timing of the alerts apparently varies. One person followed “said she was notified four hours after her phone first noticed the rogue gadget”, while “others said it took days to get notified of an unknown AirTag” , according to an article in the New York Times in December.
Software updates “later this year”
Apple said it will roll out “precision finding” that will allow “recipients of an unwanted tracking alert to locate an unknown AirTag with precision. iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 users can use Precision Finding to see the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag when in range. As an iPhone user moves, Precision Finding fuses inputs from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer and gyroscope to direct them to the AirTag through a combination of sound, haptics and visual feedback.”
Apple said the update will be released “later this year”, but didn’t get more specific about the timing. Other planned changes for later this year include the following:
- More alerts sent to iOS devices: “When AirTag automatically plays a sound to alert everyone nearby to its presence and is detected during motion with your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, we will also display an alert on your device for you to take action, such as the playing a sound or using Precision Finding, if available,” Apple said. “This will help in cases where the AirTag is in a location where it is difficult to hear or the AirTag speaker has been tampered with.”
- Past Alerts: “Our Unwanted Tracking Alerts system uses advanced logic to determine how we warn users. We plan to update our Unwanted Tracking Alerts system to notify users earlier that an unknown AirTag or Find My network accessory may be traveling with them,” Apple said.
- louder tones: “Currently iOS users who receive an unwanted tracking alert can play a sound to help them find the unknown AirTag. We will adjust the tone order to use more of the loudest tones to make an unknown AirTag easier to find,” said Apple.