When Apple announced it was entering the “help me find my stuff” market with its innovative AirTags in 2021, they were heralded as an ingenious solution to a long-standing issue. They differed from previous products like Tile by using Apple’s own fleet of devices already out in the wild to help locate items, improving location accuracy. Unfortunately, they’ve also been put to more nefarious purposes.
Thus far, Apple’s button-shaped location trackers have been used to steal cars and track people without their knowledge. Unscrupulous individuals have begun selling AirTags with their external, presence-announcing speakers removed. In light of all this bad press, this week Apple announced it was taking firm steps to prevent “unwanted tracking,” which it says it condemns in the strongest terms possible.
In a blog post the company outlines its plans combat the scourge of malicious tracking, laying out several steps it plans to take both in the near term and in the future. After declaring it has successfully worked with law enforcement in the past to catch people abusing its technology, the company outlines its first step, which honestly seems like a pure CYA tactic. Apple will now show users a warning about privacy when setting up the AirTags for the first time, and reminding them that tracking people without their consent “is a crime in many regions.” It also warns you that AirTags are designed to warn users when they are nearby, and that law enforcement can subpoena Apple to find out who owns the tag.
Apple’s next step clears up some confusion between an AirTag and an AirPod. Apparently, if you had an AirPod near you that isn’t yours, you’d receive an alert on your phone that read, “Unknown Accessory Detected.” This caused confusion, with some people thinking the “accessory” mentioned was an AirTag. Apple will make both of these changes in an upcoming update. It also updated its support page to give people more information on what to do when they discover an unwanted Apple item in their proximity.
The company announced several larger changes arriving later this year. The first adjusts the way “precision finding” technology behaves. Precision finding is available on iPhone 11, 12, and 13 and uses the newer phones’ more advanced technology to pinpoint the AirTag with an on-screen arrow, directions, and haptic feedback. Currently you can only use precision finding to locate an AirTag associated with your AppleID, but the update will allow you to find any AirTag in your proximity with it.
Next, whenever an AirTag emits a tone in order to help someone locate it, it will also transmit an alert to your Apple device at the same time. This could make it easier to find if someone had tampered with the speaker in the tag, or otherwise muffled the sound. On a similar note, Apple will also be fiddling with the tone that is played to make it louder and more noticeable.
Finally, the company will be reducing the amount of time that is allowed to pass before it notifies you that there’s an AirTag nearby. When they first launched in April 2021 Apple had set the alert interval at a ridiculous three days, which it then reduced to 24 hours in light of mischief. Apple doesn’t say what the new interval is going to be, only that they will be notifying users “earlier” that an AirTag is traveling with them.
The smaller fixes will be rolling out soon for all AirTag owners, with the big changes coming later this year. This is also a good time to remind any Android users reading this that Apple released an app in December called Tracker Detect that lets you scan your surroundings for AirTags. If you are concerned about this possibility, check out the app.