Apple acknowledges security issues with AirTags, announces new updates

Apple acknowledges security issues with AirTags, announces new updates

Apple’s button-sized Bluetooth tracker has been serially misused to stalk people.

(Photo: Apple) (Photo: Apple)

Apple had created its AirTags to help people keep a track of their personal items like keys, wallets, backpacks, etc., with the help of its Find My app. While AirTags has seen its share of success stories, it has also become a significant security threat as well with many people complaining that they have found unidentified AirTags on them which were being used to stalk them.

AirTag’s security issues have been flagged by many and Apple has also acknowledged the problem and has rolled out some updates to tackle the issue. However, that hasn’t been enough to deter bad actors from using the trackers to follow and stalk others.

The company has addressed the issue again and has announced new updates that will be rolling out soon.

Older updates that Apple has already rolled out to deal with the stalking issue include a notification that users will get if an unknown AirTag is on them. All iPhones running iOS 14.5 and up will receive notifications of an AirTag is detected traveling with someone who does not own it. The notifications will pop up once the user returns home. Apple also launched an app for Android users in December that will let them know about mystery AirTags following them.

Additionally, AirTags were also updated to make a noise, at random times between eight to 24 hours, when they are separated from their owners. Users can also use their phones to make the AirTag emit a noise to help find it more quickly. Apple also added detailed instructions about how to disable an unwanted AirTag from the phone and also by taking it apart. All AirTags have serial numbers that can be tracked back to the owner, but this feature is of not much help if the AirTag cannot be found in the first place.

“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. Unwanted tracking has long been a societal problem, and we took this concern seriously in the design of AirTag,” Apple said.

The company pointed out that while people do receive unwanted tracking alerts for reasons like borrowing someone’s car keys or being in a car with a friend/family member’s AirPods, they are also aware that the AirTags are being misused.

“We also have seen reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes. Apple has been working closely with various safety groups and law enforcement agencies. Through our own evaluations and these discussions, we have identified even more ways we can update AirTag safety warnings and help guard against further unwanted tracking,” Apple added.

“We have been actively working with law enforcement on all AirTag-related requests we’ve received. Based on our knowledge and on discussions with law enforcement, incidents of AirTag misuse are rare; however, each instance is one too many,” the company said.

“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,” Apple explained.

Besides this, Apple’s new updates include privacy warnings while setting up AirTags, AirPods’ alert issues, Precision Finding, Display Alert with sound, refining unwanted tracking alerts, and the ability to tune the AirTags’ sounds.

From the time a person sets up an AirTag, they will see a message that states that AirTags are meant to track their belongings only and using an AirTag to track people without their consent is a crime. The message adds that an “AirTag is designed to be detected by victims, and that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag”.

For users who have been receiving “Unknown Accessory Detected” alerts for AirPods, Apple has updated this issue and the alert will not display if an AirTag is detected near the user, “only AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or a third-party Find My network accessory”. “We will be updating the alert users receive to indicate that AirPods have been traveling with them instead of an ‘Unknown Accessory”,” Apple added.

Features like Precision Finding that will help those receiving unwanted tracking alerts to detect to locate an unknown AirTag better, will be rolling out later this year. “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,” Apple explained.

The sounds that AirTags emit to alert people about its presence is often not loud enough to be heard. Thus, Apple is going to add a display alert on your device so as quicker action can be taken, like play the sound again, ot use Precision Finding to located the unwanted AirTag faster. “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,” Apple said.

Apple also plans to update its unwanted tracking alert system to notify users sooner about an unwanted and unidentified AirTag or Find My network accessory traveling with them. AirTag users will also be able to adjust the tone sequence on the AirTag to make it louder so as it can be more easily found, particularly in the case of unwanted tracking alerts.

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