May 28, 2022

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Future Technology

Apple updating AirTags with new privacy warnings, better warning sounds, smarter Find My tracking

Apple’s AirTag sensors have raised some privacy concerns, which the company is addressing.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple is adding new privacy warnings, sound alerts and tracking code to its AirTags sensors, the latest in a series of efforts it’s made to improve security and privacy of the devices and its Find My network. The company also said it is changing alerts some AirPods have sent to users, sometimes showing up instead as an “unknown accessory” on the Find My network.

The tech giant said Thursday that it’s planning software updates that will display new warnings to people setting up AirTags, reminding them that using the technology to track people without their consent is a crime in many regions of the world. It also notes that Apple designed AirTags so that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner.

Apple is also changing the noise its AirTags emit when they’re traveling away from their owner. Apple said it plans to adjust the “tone sequence” of the noises its AirTags make when warning someone about unwanted tracking. Apple said it’ll make more of “the loudest tones” to make the device more findable.

apple-airtag-privacy-message-in-pairing-flow

Apple’s new warning to AirTag owners.


Apple

“We design our products to provide a great experience, but also with safety and privacy in mind,” Apple said in a statement. “We’re committed to listening to feedback and innovating to make improvements that continue to guard against unwanted tracking.”

Apple’s adjustments to its AirTags and Find My technology mark its latest attempts to bolster the privacy and security around its devices. The tech giant first released its AirTags last year, for $29 apiece, or $99 for a four-pack. Apple pitched the half-dollar-coin-sized devices as an easy way to find lost keys, book bags and other objects using Apple’s Find My network technology. Apple also touted AirTag security, saying each device uses frequently changing identifying code and encrypted communication to deter hacking and unintended tracking.

Privacy advocates have worried though that AirTags can and are being abused, despite its best efforts. Critics noted that because Apple’s Find My network has more than 1 billion active iPhones and other devices that quietly share the location of any AirTags or other Find My devices nearby, it likely has greater reach than any other device tracking service. 

In June last year, Apple updated its AirTags with new software meant to deter abuse by changing the amount of time before an AirTag alerts a nonowner to its presence. Apple shortened that period to between 8 and 24 hours, from its initially designed three days.

In December, the company took another step, releasing its free Tracker Detect app for Android phones, allowing people to actively scan for nearby Find My devices that have been separated from their owners for at least 10 minutes.

With the forthcoming software updates Apple’s planning, the company said it’ll also be easier to find unwanted AirTags using its precision finding technology, which presents a compass-like arrow on a phone screen when searching for the device.

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