According to The New York Times, the Apple Standard is alive and well.
If you’re not familiar with the Apple Standard, well, where have you been? Not reading this column, certainly. Probably doing something productive like exercising or taking a correspondence course or something.
How dare you.
Anyway, the gist of the Apple Standard is that if Apple is being chastised for something, you can bet your Apple Cash balance that its competitors are way worse about that very same thing. (Notable exceptions include the App Store developer terms, Craig Federighi’s dad jokes and Eddy Cue’s shirt collection. Void where prohibited.)
After the recent press concerning AirTags being used for nefarious purposes such as theft and stalking, The Times’ Kashmir Hill tried tracking her husband (with his permission) using AirTags, a Tile Bluetooth tracker and a GPS tracker.
“I Used Apple AirTags, Tiles and a GPS Tracker to Watch My Husband’s Every Move”
It’s a great look at the problems with this technology. Interestingly enough, Hill found that while none of the devices provided adequate security to prevent malicious use, AirTags provided the most.
The most! The most is always the best, right? Well, except when the most is not enough.
Another key difference between Tile and AirTag is that if an iPhone detects an unknown AirTag continuously moving with it, the iPhone owner gets a notification…
Great! No problem then. Apple has thought of everything.
Assuming you have an iPhone.
Oh. Right. Turns out there are other phones. Who knew? Certainly not the Macalope. Must be a new thing? Whatever.
There is an app for Android that that lets you manually scan for nearby AirTags, but how many Android-using victims are going to know to download it? Or use it? And why should they have to?
Apple itself has realized the inadequacy of its safeguards and announced improvements this week, including making the devices louder and telling AirTag users that tracking someone without consent is a crime.
Ah! That will surely stop them! If there’s one thing we know it’s that telling people who are about to commit a crime that it is a crime that they are about to commit will immediately stop them from doing all the crimes. Because criminals are always such rational actors.
Still, it’s better than Tile and other types of trackers that currently provide no warning. The GPS tracker Hill tested is made by LandSeaAir which advertises it on Amazon as “The ultimate in discreet tracking”.
Ah! Very cool. Nothing uncool about that. At least its advanced features require an expensive subscription.
After being tracked and apparently forgiven for going to Dunkin Donuts without his wife (guess the Hills do things differently than the Macalopes), Hill’s husband had this to say:
“For all the bad press the AirTags have gotten, and as flaky as the detection mechanisms were, at least I was consistently getting notifications they were following me,” he said. “The privacy dangers of the other trackers were way worse.”
Which gets us back to the Apple Standard. A lot of reports act like Apple just invented car theft and stalking and faxed instruction manuals to the Dark Web (the Maclaope doesn’t know how the Dark Web works).
Of course, there is a difference between a product being sold by Brand Z Industries (available at finer gas store convenience stations and combination Hardees across the country) and by Apple. Apple is going to make almost any technology easier to use and make more people aware of it. It’s one thing to figure out how to train dolphins to blow up commuter rail trains, it’s another to sell the dolphins at the mall.
Sadly, all of these technologies can be misused by bad actors and companies, Apple included, should think twice before shipping products that can make people less safe. Pretty much any technology comes with a societal price. But it should be up to the companies selling that technology to mitigate it. Give Apple some credit for doing a better job than its competitors, but also demand it does a better job still. Fortunately, in this case it seems like it knows it needs to.
In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.