How Apple Wants to Prevent Unwanted Tracking and Stalking with AirTag

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 29 Mar 2022

Apple AirTag Keyring

Apple’s AirTag started raising widespread concerns when people started misusing them to stalk people, track packages, and even locate secret government facilities. In January this year, Apple updated the Personal Safety User Guide to address these concerns and announced plans to improve anti-tracking measures on the AirTag. Here’s a detailed overview of what has changed.

Apple’s personal Safety User Guide is for anyone worried that AirTags could be used to perpetrate crimes and stalk people without their knowledge. The guide suggests preventive measures such as the Tracker Detect App and similar functionality in the Find My app that could help detect rogue AirTags early and disable them. The company also outlined a few fundamental changes to make the AirTag safer for the public in general.

Precision Finding for Rogue AirTag

Apple’s Find My network allows you to locate compatible devices precisely. Precision Finding relies on Ultra-Wideband, and through the Find My app, you can get an approximate location of your Apple devices such as AirPods, your iPhone, and your own AirTags. However, Find My does not allow you to locate a potentially malicious AirTag in a similar manner. Apple intends to unlock that capability so you easily locate an AirTag that could be used for stalking you.

A real-world test by a New York Times journalist showed that although rogue AirTags alert potential victims of their presence sooner than other object trackers, locating the AirTag with its feeble sound isn’t easy. Precision Finding using Find My would help earlier detection of the AirTag. Unfortunately, the feature would be available only with iPhones with UWB.

Display Alert with Sound

In addition to the aforementioned feature, the Find My app will soon present an option to start Precision Finding and play a sound. The on-screen alert will help alert you about unwanted AirTags if the sound does draw your attention because trackers with malicious intent could be well concealed, or its speaker has been tampered with. In recent months, modified AirTags with disabled speakers have been found selling on Etsy and eBay, posing a risk to unwary people.

Refined Logic to Alert Earlier

Apple explains that the Find My system currently relies on sophisticated logic to alert users about unwanted AirTags in their vicinity. The company plans to update this logic, so the alert system notifies potential victims earlier. The aforementioned real-world test showed that Find My alerts you of unwanted AirTags after they have been following you for around two hours. The system will broadly encompass other Find My-compatible accessories that could be used for stalking.

Acoustic Tuning

iPhone users can play a sound to locate AirTags following their every move. However, Apple plans to tune the tone sequence so the object tracker emits more loud tones. This subtle change could save precious time spent locating and disabling unwanted AirTags.

Privacy Warnings during Setup

Besides these changes that will roll out sometime later this year, Apple has already made three key alterations to AirTag’s firmware and setup process to combat stalking concerns. The most important of these is the privacy warning displayed when you set up a new AirTag. The warning message attempts to deter ill-intentioned users by clearly specifying that AirTag is only for tracking personal belongings. Using it to track people without their consent is a criminal offense.

The warning also states that Apple allows potential victims to conveniently detect AirTags that could be stalking them. Further, law enforcement agencies can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag. Apple hopes that a strong warning against misuse will curb stalking.


Clearing the Confusion

The Find My app generates an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert that tends to be muddled with the alert for AirTags that could be stalking you, creating avoidable confusion and panic. Apple said it would clarify the wording of the former alert, so Find My informs you which accessory was detected. The company has described that the “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert can only be generated by unidentified AirPods 3, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and some third-party Find My-compatible accessories if they are moving around with you.

Updated Support Documentation

To communicate the changes to the Find My network and AirTag, Apple continually updates support documentation for the Find My features built into compatible products. The documentation has recently been updated to explain which Find My accessories trigger unwanted tracking alerts with specific examples. The guide also specifies how to disable the AirTag if you receive such an alert.

The iPhone maker plans to roll out some of these improvements later this year, and some are already available. Are there any other safety measures Apple could implement to make AirTag safer to use? Tell us in the comments section.