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iOS 17.5 Adds Cross-Platform Location Tracking Alerts

Apple has released a hefty collection of operating system updates with a few new features, a new Pride Radiance wallpaper and watch face, unspecified bug fixes, and a slew of security fixes. You can now use Software Update to download iOS 17.5, iPadOS 17.5, macOS 14.5 Sonoma, watchOS 10.5, tvOS 17.5, HomePod Software 17.5, macOS Ventura 13.6.7, macOS Monterey 12.7.5, iOS 16.7.8, and iPadOS 16.7.8.

Only iOS 17.5, iPadOS 17.5, and macOS 14.5 receive new features; the rest of the updates sport only bug and security fixes.

Detecting Unwanted Location Trackers

The most important new feature is support in iOS 17.5 and iPadOS 17.5 for a new industry specification—Detecting Unwanted Location Trackers—that makes it possible for both iOS and Android to alert users if they are unknowingly being tracked by a Bluetooth tracking device like the AirTag. The spec says:

This document’s goal is to, in part, help protect the privacy of individuals from unwanted tracking by location-tracking accessories. Location-tracking accessories provide numerous benefits to consumers, but, as with all technology, it is possible for them to be misused. Misuse of location-tracking accessories can result in unwanted tracking of individuals or items for nefarious purposes such as stalking, harassment, and theft.  This document is focused on protecting people from misuse of location-tracking accessories. Formalizing a set of best practices for manufacturers will allow for scalable compatibility with unwanted tracking detection technologies on various smartphone platforms and improve privacy and security for individuals.

Unwanted tracking detection can both detect and alert individuals that a location tracker separated from the owner’s device is traveling with them, as well as provide means to find and disable the tracker.  This document outlines technical best practices for location tracker manufacturers, which will allow for their compatibility with unwanted tracking detection and alerting technology on platforms.

Thanks to this new specification, smartphone owners running iOS 17.5, iPadOS 17.5, or Android 6.0+ will receive alerts if an unknown Bluetooth tracking device is seen moving with them over time, regardless of which platform that device is paired with. Apple implies that AirTags and Find My accessories are already compatible with this new spec and says that other manufacturers of Bluetooth trackers, including Chipolo, Eufy, Jio, Motorola, and Pebblebee, have committed to making future tags compatible. Of course, that suggests that current trackers may not be compatible.

Apple News+ Additions

Subscribers to Apple News+ receive two new features: the original spelling game Quartiles and Offline Mode. Quartiles shows a grid of tiles containing two to four letters and challenges players to combine them to make longer words, scoring points based on word length. A new Puzzles Scoreboard shows personalized stats and streaks for each puzzle. Quartiles and the Puzzles Scoreboard are available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Quartiles game and Puzzles Scoreboard

Offline Mode enables iPhone and iPad users to automatically download Top Stories, Apple News Today audio briefings, complete magazine issues and narrated articles from News+ publishers, and puzzles to access later, without any sort of Internet connection—handy for those long flights. Downloaded content refreshes once the device is back online. Apple says Offline Mode optimizes downloads to maximize free space on the device.

Update Advice

These updates present an unusual set of update scenarios:

  • iOS 17.5 and iPadOS 17.5: I recommend updating to these versions quickly because they can alert you to Android-paired Bluetooth trackers moving with you. It’s unlikely, certainly, but better safe than sorry.
  • iOS 16.7.8, iPadOS 16.7.8, and macOS 13.6.7 Ventura: Among the security vulnerabilities that Apple addressed in these older operating systems is one that is being actively exploited in the wild. If you are using an iPhone or iPad that cannot be updated to iOS 17.5 or iPadOS 17.5, or a Mac that’s still running Ventura, I recommend installing these security updates right away. There are no other changes.
  • Everything else: For the remaining operating systems, I encourage updating soon because they address quite a few security vulnerabilities. However, none are being exploited in the wild, so there’s less urgency.

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Comments About iOS 17.5 Adds Cross-Platform Location Tracking Alerts

Notable Replies

  1. Interestingly, as of 2:30PM PDT on Monday, there was no update to visionOS, which remains at version 1.1.2.

  2. I love how Apple shows a grand total of ZERO information for this macOS update. I must be looking at it wrong.

    NB: this was after I hit the “more” info button.

    If it weren’t for the (unmentioned) security updates, I’d say at least they’re being honest about the update’s added value.

  3. So the new proposed standard requires compliance not just from Android and iOS but from the tags themselves too. So bad actors will prefer to buy tags that don’t comply, increasing their market share. Better would be to be able to notify users if a tracker is moving with them whether or not that tracker complies.

  4. Yeah, I was confused by that too, but was working really quickly at the end of an already busy Monday. And the online release notes appeared shortly after, showing that it really was just the Apple News+ additions (and security fixes). Meh.

  5. But for tags from other manufacturers to work at all well, they’ll need to tie into Apple’s or Google’s networks, so manufacturers have no incentive not to support the new spec.

    Only Apple- or Google-compatible tags present a real privacy/stalking concern because only they have enough devices in the wild to track any random Bluetooth-driven tag.

    Any bad actor who really wants to stalk someone will use a GPS-enabled tracker that reports back via the cell network. But I believe those are larger, more expensive, harder to hide, and have shorter battery life.

  6. With iPadOS 17.5 you’re no longer able to opt out of Game Center. If you click on Game Center in Settings you’re forced to sign up by a dialogue box it is impossible to get out of. :woman_juggling:t4:

  7. One significant drawback to this tracking alert: I keep an Air Tag hidden in my car to assist with recovery if my car is stolen (it has been vandalized before).

    Now, with this new alert, a thief would be alerted to my air tag, could locate & disable it, and prevent tracking down my stolen car.

    I understand the reasoning behind this change with regards to scenarios like stalking, however it seriously inhibits its use to track down and recover one’s own stolen property.

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