Apple offers up a potential fix for some iPhone owners experiencing ‘phantom AirTag alerts’

By themselves, the AirTag item tracking accessory seems like a pretty stable device. It does what it’s supposed to do pretty well, after all. But the feature that is directly associated with it, Apple’s Find My network, seems to be going through a rough growth spurt as of late.

A closeup photograph of an Apple AirTag being held between a person's thumb and index finger, with the tracker's stainless steel back exposed to the camera
Image credit: Thai Nguyen / Unsplash

Which is apparently leading to what The Wall Street Journal refers to as “phantom AirTag alerts.” Or, at least part of the problem. The primary issue starts with notifications for an AirTag that is presumably not yours. Apple’s included anti-stalking features as part of the AirTag suite, and it’s here the problem arises.

Because that feature is supposed to let you know how to find that specific AirTag, the one that’s being used to track your location and that doesn’t belong to you. The feature will try to help you locate that AirTag, so you can then pass it along to law enforcement so they can help find the individual trying to keep tabs on you.

Interestingly, these phantom AirTag alerts are apparently informing some iPhone owners that there is an AirTag in their vicinity. And sometimes that warning is coming in the middle of the night. The Find My app will then show where the AirTag is and its projected path. But, according to the report, there’s no such AirTag.

And apparently even the paths the Find My app is suggesting isn’t even plausible:

The maps on phantom AirTag alerts share a similar pattern: straight red lines radiating out from the user’s location. If an AirTag were in motion (perhaps flying?) along these paths, it would be crossing in the middle of city streets, passing through construction zones, even penetrating walls.

As it stands right now, it does not appear that this is a hugely widespread issue. There’s not even a consensus on how long it has been going on. For what it’s worth, Apple did suggest a potential fix for the problem (which, at the very least, is admission on Apple’s part that the problem does exist):

An Apple spokesman said that such alerts could have resulted from an iPhone receiving area Wi-Fi signals that temporarily confused its location services. A potential fix would be to go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services, and toggle the switch off and on while Wi-Fi is enabled on the iPhone. He also said that in more densely populated areas, AirTags owned by others nearby could inadvertently trigger unwanted alerts.

It’s potentially a small issue, but one that could cause some frustration for some iPhone users. Especially if they get the notification frequently enough.

Have you experienced a phantom AirTag alert?