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Apple Explains How It Will Address AirTag Privacy Issues

Apple’s AirTag tracking devices quickly became controversial, with media and police reports of criminals using them for stalking and theft (see “AirTags: Hidden Stalking Menace or Latest Overblown Urban Myth?,” 11 January 2022). Apple has addressed the controversy in a short but detailed statement:

  • Apple says it’s actively working with law enforcement on any cases involving AirTag abuse.
  • New privacy prompts will be displayed during AirTag setup, including a warning that using an AirTag to track someone without their consent is a crime in many regions.
  • Apple has updated its unwanted tracking documentation to explain AirTag safety features more clearly to users and to include resources for those who feel their safety is at risk.
  • An update to iOS will enable users of the iPhone 11 and later to locate an unknown AirTag with precision, showing distance and direction.
  • The unwanted tracking alert system will notify users sooner that an unknown AirTag is traveling with them.
  • Apple will be “adjusting the AirTag’s tone sequence to use more of the loudest tones” to make an unknown AirTag louder and easier to find.

Overall, these changes would seem to address many of the concerns caused by the widespread use of AirTags, and it’s good to see Apple stepping up with a clear, concise plan of action. Perhaps Apple replacing its previous externally hired head of PR with longtime spokesperson Kristin Huguet Quayle marks a change in how the company will react to negative press. Apple’s response to the firestorm of criticism surrounding its announcement of technologies aimed at identifying CSAM was certainly a low point (see “Apple Delays CSAM Detection Launch,” 3 September 2021).

It’s also worth noting that Apple is emphasizing that AirTags are designed to help individuals locate their personal belongings, not to track stolen items, and certainly not to track other people. Obviously, those domains overlap, but hopefully less so once Apple rolls out the promised changes. If nothing else, the ease of connecting an AirTag back to its owner should help law enforcement nab stalkers who attempt to abuse the AirTag’s capabilities.

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