AirTag and spying: Apple announces changes

Apple has decided to speak up and make changes regarding AirTags and spying. The manufacturer wants to limit this practice where people use the accessory to track other people without their knowledge. There have been more and more cases in recent weeks.

AirTag Getting Started

A lot of work with law enforcement

“The AirTag was designed to help people know where their belongings are, not to track other people or property. We strongly condemn any malicious use of our products”, says Apple. The group claims to have “taken very seriously” the history of tracking when designing the object tracker. This practice is “a social problem” according to his words.

“This is also why we have innovated by creating the very first proactive alert system in the event of tracking. We hope this innovation will start a trend within the industry and inspire other players to incorporate these kinds of proactive alerts into their products.”, continues Apple. It acknowledges that users may occasionally receive tracking alerts for benign reasons. But as they say: prevention is better than cure.

Changes to limit tracking with the AirTag

This is where the changes for AirTags come in to limit tracking. Apple says it has worked with law enforcement to find solutions. Here are the new measures:

  • New privacy alerts during AirTag setup: following an upcoming software update, during the initial setup of each AirTag, a message will clearly indicate that the AirTag is intended to track the user’s assets and that of the user alone, that the use of the AirTag to track people without their consent is a crime in many countries, that the AirTag is designed to be detected by victims, and that law enforcement can demand information that identifies the owner of the AirTag.
  • Fixing alert issues for AirPods: We’ve been getting reports of Unknown Accessory Detected alerts. We confirm that this alert will not appear if an AirTag is near a user – only for AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max or third-party accessories in the Find My network. In this same software update, the Unknown Accessory message will be replaced by an alert that it is AirPods.
  • Support documentation update: Starting today, Apple is changing the Tracking article on apple.com to inform about security features built into the AirTag, AirPods, and Find My network accessories. This page now details Find My accessories that can trigger a Tracking alert, includes illustrations of those alerts, and explains what to do in the event of an alert, including instructions for disabling an AirTag, AirPods, or accessory from the Find My network. It provides links to useful resources for life safety breaches, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Center for Victims of Crime in the United States.

AirTag Under Apple Logo

Other changes for the future

Apple also has a series of updates in the works for release later this year, including:

  • Precision location: in the event of a tracking alert, it will allow the user to accurately locate the unknown AirTag. iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 will show how far and which direction an unknown AirTag is in range. As the iPhone user moves around, this feature will aggregate data from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope, and guide them to the AirTag using audible, haptic and visual signals.
  • Visual and sound alert: when the AirTag automatically emits a sound to alert of its presence and the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch indicates that it is moving, an alert will be displayed on the device so that you can act accordingly . This can be a sound or precision location, if available. This function will be useful if the sound of the AirTag is muffled and therefore difficult to hear or if the speaker has been tampered with.
  • Adjusted tracking alert logic: our tracking alert system uses sophisticated logic to determine how to notify users. We plan to update this to warn users sooner that an unknown AirTag or accessory from the Find My network is following them.
  • AirTag Tone Modulation: Currently, iOS users receiving a tracking alert can make the unknown AirTag play a sound to track it down. We are going to modulate the tone to increase the volume and make it easier to locate.

“When we design our products, we think about the user experience, but also about security and privacy. All of Apple’s hardware, software and services teams are committed to listening to user feedback and innovating to strengthen tracking protection.”concludes Apple.

Nothing for Android… yet

It should be noted in passing that the changes for AirTags to limit espionage currently concerns Apple users. There is nothing about Android users. But we can imagine that Apple will not forget them. After all, the company offers an Android application precisely related to AirTags.

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