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  • Lawrence Ng

Apple Promises Updates and Improvements To Solve AirTag Unwanted Tracking Situation

Apple will be taking additional steps to ensure it will be harder for people to use AirTags for illegal stalking and tracking purposes.

Credit: James D. Morgan | Getty Images

The Cupertino-based company recently said that it would release updates that would aim to solve its AirTags' unwanted tracking problem in a future software update. According to the company's statement, one of these updates is new privacy warnings during an AirTag's setup process, which will be important for users setting up their AirTag for the first time. Users would see a message clearly stating that AirTag is meant to track their belongings and that using AirTag for tracking people without their consent is a crime in some parts of the world. Apple also said that AirTag is designed to be detected by victims and that law enforcement can request information that will help identify an AirTag's owner.

In addition to the update on the setup process, Apple also addressed users' concerns regarding its "Unknown Accessory Detected" alert through an update on the alert users would receive mistakenly. This new update would indicate if AirPods have been travelling with them instead of an "unknown accessory".

An example of what an "Unknown Accessory Detected" alert looks like. / Credit: Apple

Previously, users reported receiving an "Unknown Accessory Detected" alert when their iOS devices have detected a Find My network accessory in their general vicinity. Apple has confirmed that AirTag does not display such an alert when one is detected near a user. Instead, only 3rd generation AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max or a third-party Find My network accessory may trigger an "Unknown Accessory Detected" alert.

Finally, Apple has also made changes to its unwanted tracking support article on its website to "communicate the safety features" of its AirTag, AirPods, and Find My network accessories. The article now has additional explanations of which Find My network accessories may trigger an unwanted tracking alert, more visuals that give specific examples of the alerts, and what to do after receiving these alerts. This update also has instructions on how to disable an AirTag, AirPods, or Find My network accessory.

Precision Finding, a feature that would allow iPhone 11, 12 and 13 users to see the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag when in range, would come sometime in 2022. Credit: Apple

Apple has also started investigating a series of updates that would be launched later in 2022. These particular updates would refine unwanted tracking alert logic to alert users that an unknown AirTag or Find My network accessory may be travelling with them earlier, making an unknown AirTag's tone sequence louder and allowing iPhone 11, 12 and 13 users to precisely locate an unknown AirTag. Additionally, one of these updates would give users an alert on their devices to track their AirTag using Precision Finding or play a sound when it emits a sound to alert nearby people of its location.

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

The "Unwanted Accessory Detected" issue of Apple's AirTag helped raise awareness on the topic of unwanted tracking. / Credit: Apple

Not everything about the AirTag mishap was negative, though. Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said that the issue "helped shine a light on a problem that existed long before AirTags came on the market".

"We are happy Apple is engaging in the conversation about victim safety and are continuing to improve safeguards," Olsen said. "We hope others will follow their lead."

Renee Williams, Executive Director of the U.S. National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), is also of the same mind as Olsen. She said that the unwanted tracking alerts are an indication that Apple's system is working while also raising awareness about the issue. She also added that the NCVC and law enforcement would be happy to be a resource for anyone experiencing technology-based abuse, stalking or harassment.

  • Apple released a statement saying that it would be launching updates for its AirTag and Find My network in a future software update.

  • These updates include new privacy warnings during AirTag setup, updating the alert users receive when AirPods have been detected travelling with them instead of an "Unknown Accessory", and revisions to support documentation.

  • Apple has also started investigating a series of updates that would be released sometime in 2022. These particular updates would refine unwanted tracking alert logic, give AirTag owners the ability to play a sound or precisely locate their AirTag when it is moving with their iOS device and give iPhone 11, 12, and 13 users the ability to precisely locate an unknown AirTag.

  • The "Unknown Accessory Detected" also helped raise awareness about unwanted tracking, a problem that already existed before AirTags were in the market.

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