Apple

Apple’s update to AirTags to help prevent user tracking

Apple's update to AirTags to help prevent user tracking

Apple Air Tag

Todd Haselton | Apple

Apple on Thursday announced several changes to how its AirTag product works, as the $29 quarter-sized tracker is tied to alleged crimesincluding harassment and car theft.

Apple said it will update iPhone and AirTag software to display a message during setup stating that using AirTags to track people is a crime in many parts of the world and that security forces order may request associated user information.

The Big Tech company will also introduce a feature called Precision Finding, which will direct iPhone users to unknown AirTags when they are nearby.

The changes are the most significant attempts Apple has made to date to limit the privacy and inconvenience of the product on sale. last april.

Apple added that it was working with law enforcement to provide the serial number and Apple ID information in response to subpoenas related to AirTag crimes. He also said he was able to work with authorities in some cases to find suspects who were later arrested and charged.

Apple markets AirTags as a useful lost and found finder tool for attaching items such as your keys, wallet, and backpack. The product uses Bluetooth signals and a global network of other people’s iPhones to calculate where an AirTag is and display it on a map in the user’s Find My app. Because iPhones are common in urban areas, an AirTag can effectively pinpoint its location within a small area.

AirTags don’t use GPS, and the company says it uses advanced encryption to make AirTags “private and secure” by ensuring the anonymity of iPhones in the Find My network.

But after their release, AirTags started showing up in alleged crimes. For example, thieves could place one in a car in order to track the motorist’s destination and then, using their own Find My app, obtain a prime location for a theft, police say. Alleged victims also reported on social media that AirTags had been slipped into the pockets of women in bars or clubs in an example of harassment.

Police in Colorado, Georgia, Michigan and Texas reported misuse of AirTags, NBC News previously reported.

Apple said Thursday that incidents of AirTag misuse are “rare” and that it has built tools into iPhones to alert users to unwanted tracking. Lost item trackers, like those made by Tile, existed before Apple released AirTag.

“AirTag was designed to help people locate their belongings, not to track the people or property of others, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any misuse of our products,” Apple said. “Unwanted tracking has long been a societal issue, and we took this concern seriously in the design of AirTag.”

In December, Apple released an Android app for AirTags called Tracker Detect, which searches for unknown AirTags (like one placed by a criminal) within Bluetooth range. Phones with newer software automatically detect AirTags that are not in an owner’s possession and play a sound. Apple said Thursday that it will make the AirTag sound louder and show a pop-up to nearby users when there is another person’s AirTag nearby. Additionally, users can disable any AirTags they find by removing the cover and removing the battery.

The company previously said that only the owner of an AirTag will be able to see where to find their lost item protector. This will change slightly in a future software update. A new feature called Precision Finding allows users of recent iPhones to precisely locate unknown AirTags through “a combination of sound, haptics, and visual feedback.”

Apple hasn’t released sales figures for the AirTags, but at $29 each, it’s unlikely to be a big sales driver. However, it’s strategic for Apple: Features like the Find My app make users more likely to switch to another iPhone.

The company’s marketing has focused on privacy and security as a major reason to buy its products, and reports of harassment and crimes using AirTags are forcing the tech giant to distinguish between offering of a useful lost item finder and the downside of making location tracking available to anyone with an iPhone and a $29 tracker.