Apple

Apple announces AirTag updates to address unwanted tracking

Apple announces AirTag updates to address unwanted tracking

Apple announced today that it makes updates to AirTags in an effort to reduce unwanted tracking. Several changes will be implemented as part of a multi-phase rollout.

In an upcoming software update, Apple plans to implement new privacy warnings that will appear when setting up AirTag to thwart malicious use. The disclaimer will clearly state that the AirTag is linked to an Apple ID, that using it to track people is a crime, and that law enforcement may request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag. Apple says the language of the alert might change slightly, but it will essentially convey the following information:

AirTag is linked to your Apple ID. AirTag is only intended to track items that belong to you. Using AirTag to track people without their consent is a crime in many parts of the world. AirTag is designed to be detected by victims and to allow law enforcement to request identifying information about the owner.

Apple will also fix a bug that caused confusion around unwanted tracking. AirPods can cause an “Unknown Accessory Alert” warning that some people interpreted as a notice of an AirTag. ‌AirTags‌ are unable to show “Unknown Accessory Detected” message, which is caused by AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods 3rd Generation and in some cases Network Accessory Find My.

airpods unknown accessory detected
In the next software update, AirPods will correctly identify themselves so users will no longer see the confusing “Unknown Accessory” message.

Along with these software updates, Apple is updating its Spam Tracking Support Article to provide more information about the security features built into AirTag, AirPods, and ‌Find My‌ network accessories. There are detailed explanations of which accessories can trigger an unwanted tracking alert, visuals of what those alerts look like, and more detailed information on what users should do after receiving such an alert.

The documentation is much more detailed than previous support information, and it also includes links to resources people can use if they feel their safety is at risk, as well as clear instructions on finding and disabling of an AirTag.

While these are the immediate changes made by Apple, Apple is also working on new security features that are expected to be implemented later this year. Precision search, improved display alerts, and louder sounds will make ‌AirTags‌ more difficult to use for people tracking purposes.

  • Precision research – iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 users who receive an unwanted tracking alert can locate an unknown AirTag with precision, similar to the precision search feature available to AirTag owners. The feature will provide the distance and direction of an unknown AirTag when in range, making it easier to locate.
  • Show alert with sound – When an AirTag separated from its owner plays a sound to alert people nearby, it also displays an alert on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch so it can be located by sound or precision search if the function is available. Apple says this feature will be useful if the AirTag sound is hard to hear or the speaker has been tampered with.
  • Updated unwanted tracking alerts – Apple will update its alert system to notify users earlier that an unknown AirTag or ‌Find My‌ network accessory may be traveling with them.
  • Louder AirTag sound – When an iOS user receives an unwanted tracking alert, they can make the AirTag make a sound to help search. Apple will adjust the tone sequence to make more use of the loudest tones to make ‌AirTags‌ louder and easier to find.

There is no specific timeline for the release of these new features, but Apple is preparing them for later in 2022. These updates are designed for users of Apple products, and Apple has nothing to announce on the front Android today.

Along with announcing ‌AirTags‌ updates, Apple explained that ‌AirTags‌ privacy has always been a priority. Spam tracking “has long been a societal problem”, according to Apple, which is why ‌AirTags‌ were originally designed with privacy in mind with the “first-ever proactive system” designed to provide spam tracking alerts.

airtag on the bag
Apple says it listens to user feedback and innovates to make continuous improvements to prevent unwanted tracking, so additional changes may come in the future, including for Android users.

Unwanted AirTag tracking hasn’t gone under Apple’s radar, and the company said it works with law enforcement in situations where ‌AirTags‌ are used for malicious purposes. Each AirTag has a unique serial number, and ‌AirTags‌ are associated with an ‌Apple ID‌. Apple is able to provide matched account details when requested by law enforcement, and it has indeed partnered with law enforcement in cases where information provided by Apple has traced an AirTag back to the author, who was apprehended and charged.

Apple has “actively worked” with law enforcement on all AirTag-related requests it has received. The company says that, based on discussions with law enforcement, “incidents of AirTag misuse are rare,” but even one is too many.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Center for Victims of Crime said Apple’s security system raises awareness of unwanted tracking and starts a conversation about victim safety. From Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence:

Apple’s system of alerts warning potential victims of unwanted tracking helped bring to light a problem that existed long before AirTags hit the market. We are pleased that Apple is engaging in the victim safety conversation and continuing to improve protections. We hope others will follow their example.

Since the release of ‌AirTags‌ last April, there has been a growing number of stories about ‌AirTags‌ being used to stalk people or steal things like cars through tracking features. Apple has been criticized for a security system that doesn’t go far enough in protecting users, especially those who don’t own Apple devices. In response, Apple has already made several changes to how ‌AirTags‌ work and has released an app for Android users that searches for nearby ‌AirTags‌, and hopefully the changes coming later this year will further deter the use of ‌AirTags‌. ‌AirTags‌ for unwanted tracking.