Apple has shared its planned actions and new features, coming later this year, designed to prevent unwanted AirTag tracking, including updated alerts and safety warnings.
- Apple is stepping up its fight against malicious use of its AirTag item tracker
- Some of the measures include updated sound alerts and safety warnings
- The updates will fix random “Unknown Accessory Detected” alerts, too
New features coming to prevent unwanted AirTag tracking
Writing in a post on Apple Newsroom, the company acknowledges that it, too, read about cases of bad actors using their AirTags for nefarious purposes, stalking and similar.
We’ve become aware that individuals can receive unwanted tracking alerts for benign reasons, such as when borrowing someone’s keys with an AirTag attached or when traveling in a car with a family member’s AirPods left inside. We also have seen reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes.
Interestingly, the Cupertino company went on to claim that incidents of AirTag misuse are “rare,” but added in the same breath that “each instance is one too many.”
To help prevent unwanted AirTag tracking and make its personal item tracker more secure to use, Apple has laid out several privacy-enhancing features due later in 2022. The planned measures include using the loudest tones for the unwanted tracking alert, notifying users earlier of unknown AirTags that could be traveling with them and displaying a notification on your iPhone when an AirTag emits proximity warning sound.
- Precision Finding: This capability allows recipients of an unwanted tracking alert to locate an unknown AirTag with precision. iPhone 11, iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 users will be able to use Precision Finding to see the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag when it is in range. As an iPhone user moves, Precision Finding fuses input from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer and gyroscope to guide them to the AirTag through a combination of sound, haptics and visual feedback.
- Display alert with sound: When AirTag automatically emits a sound to alert anyone nearby of its presence and is detected moving with your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, we will also display an alert on your device that you can then take action on, like playing a sound or using Precision Finding, if available. This will help in cases where the AirTag may be in a location where it is hard to hear or if the AirTag speaker has been tampered with.
- Refining unwanted tracking alert logic: Our unwanted tracking alert system uses sophisticated logic to determine how we alert users. We plan to update our unwanted tracking alert system to notify users earlier that an unknown AirTag or Find My network accessory may be traveling with them.
- Tuning AirTag’s sound: Currently, iOS users receiving an unwanted tracking alert can play a sound to help them find the unknown AirTag. We will be adjusting the tone sequence to use more of the loudest tones to make an unknown AirTag more easily findable.
Furthermore, the company will be taking these additional steps:
- New privacy warnings during AirTag setup: In an upcoming software update, every user setting up their AirTag for the first time will see a message that clearly states that AirTag is meant to track their own belongings, that using AirTag to track people without consent is a crime in many regions around the world, that AirTag is designed to be detected by victims and that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag.
- Addressing alert issues for AirPods: We’ve heard from users who have reported receiving an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert. We’ve confirmed this alert will not display if an AirTag is detected near you — only AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max or a third-party Find My network accessory. In the same software update, we will be updating the alert users receive to indicate that AirPods have been traveling with them instead of an “Unknown Accessory.”
- Updated support documentation: Today Apple is updating its unwanted tracking support article on apple.com to communicate the safety features built into AirTag, AirPods and Find My network accessories. This page now includes additional explanations of which Find My accessories may trigger an unwanted tracking alert, more visuals to provide specific examples of such alerts, and updated information on what to do after receiving an alert, including instructions for disabling an AirTag, AirPod, or Find My network accessory. There are also links to resources individuals can use if they feel their safety is at risk, such as the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Right in the second paragraph Apple makes it clear it’s set on actively fighting unwanted AirTag tracking. Read: What to do if an unknown AirTag is found moving with you
AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products
And lastly, here’s how Apple partners with law enforcement on this problem:
Every AirTag has a unique serial number, and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple can provide the paired account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement. We have successfully partnered with them on cases where information we provided has been used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was then apprehended and charged.
For more on that, check out Apple’s law enforcement documentation.