You may have heard recent reports that AirTags are being used to track people without their knowledge or consent. While AirTags will give proactive warnings when an unknown tag is determined to be traveling with you and an Android app will let you scan for unknown AirTags in your vicinity, some people have complained that these measures–which are more extensive than those taken by other personal item trackers–don’t go far enough.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Apple addressed the issue and listed some changes coming in future software updates to help mitigate the problem. Of course, the statement starts by repeating Apple’s claim that AirTags are meant to track your own items, not people or other people’s items. Then it spends quite a lot of time telling stories about how miraculous these bluetooth trackers are and how they’ve helped people find their important lost stuff.
When all the back-patting is over, Apple reminds us that it can give info about paired AirTags to law enforcement in response to a “subpoena or valid request.” So while AirTags and the Find My network uses end-to-end encryption, the unique serial number of an AirTag can be associated with your Apple ID if it’s turned in to police and they request the info from Apple.
Apple then described some changes coming to AirTags to help reduce unwanted tracking in the first place. There are three changes coming soon:
- New privacy warnings during AirTag setup: When setting up your AirTag for the first time, you will see a message that clearly states that AirTag is meant to track your own belongings and that using it to track people without consent is a crime in many regions. It will remind you 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: You can track newer AirPods in much the same way as AirTags, but they give a different “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert when an unknown AirPod is traveling with you. The same message displays for third-party trackers that use the Find My network. In the software update, Apple will change the warning for AirPods to specifically say that unknown AirPods are traveling with you, rather than an “Unknown Accessory.”
- Updated support documentation: Today Apple is updating its unwanted tracking support article on apple.com with 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, AirPods, or Find My network accessory.
In addition to these changes happening soon, Apple says it is “investigating a series of updates” that could come later in the year, including:
- Precision Finding: If you have an iPhone with the U1 chip (iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13), you will be able to use Precision Finding to see the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag when it is in range. Currently, Precision Finding is only available to the owner of the AirTag.
- Display alert with sound: Unknown AirTags automatically emits a sound to alert anyone nearby of their presence if moving with an unknown device. Apple will add notifications to this event, popping up an alert on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch that it is moving with. The alert will give you options like playing a sound or using Precision Finding, if available. This will help fix the problem of AirTags that have had their speakers disabled or are placed somewhere where they are hard to hear.
- Refining unwanted tracking alert logic: Apple plans to update the logic of its 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 make the AirTag play a sound to help them find it. Apple will adjust the tone sequence that plays when a user has an unknown AirTag traveling with them to make an unknown AirTag more easily findable.
Apple didn’t spell out exactly when these updates will come, only that the new setup warnings and AirPods identification are coming in the same “upcoming software update,” and that the rest is under investigation for a release later this year. Absent from Apple’s list is one of our biggest complaints: that the Android app is woefully inadequate for those who don’t have iPhones but find themselves being tracked by a Find My compatible device like an AirTag. Users have to know to download it in the first place, and then must launch the app and manually scan in order to find a tag.
I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life – over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.