People who study privacy say Apple needs to work with other companies like Google, Samsung, Tile, and more to come up with a solution.
If you lose your keys, wallet, or other personal items, Apple’s AirTags are supposed to help you find them. These tiny Bluetooth trackers have also been used for bad things, like stalking. They were released by Apple last April.
Sports Illustrated model Brooks Nader said this in a January Instagram post: “It was the scariest, scariest moment of my life, and I just want everyone to know that this is a thing.” She was talking about an iPhone alert she got one night while walking home from a bar. It said that a device had been tracking her. Nader’s husband found an AirTag in her coat pocket when she came home, she told the Tamron Hall Show.
Apple has tried to stop people from getting their hands on AirTags by encrypting the communication between AirTags and its Find My network. The company said on Feb. 10 that it was going to add more privacy warnings to AirTags during the process of setting them up. It’s also cutting down on how long it takes to tell an iPhone owner that an AirTag they don’t know is on them.
How AirTags work, and why they’re being linked to stalking
AirTags are small, Bluetooth-enabled trackers that help iPhone owners keep track of their own things. Apple’s Find My app can be used on iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers to find things like wallets, bikes, and more. When you put one in something, like a wallet or a bike, its location is shown on a map in the app. The owner of an AirTag can’t see it when it’s out of Bluetooth range. Other Apple devices in the Find My network can see it and send its location to the cloud.
But that level of precision comes with some risks. AirTags have been used for stalking and theft, which led the New York and Pennsylvania attorneys general to send out public safety alerts on Feb. 16. Police in Connecticut say that a man used an AirTag to stalk his ex-girlfriend by hiding an AirTag in her car. It was last month that CBS News talked to two Atlanta women who found out that AirTags had been hidden in their cars. They were being tracked. She said she found an AirTag in her gas tank. In December, the New York Times talked to seven women who say they were being stalked by AirTags after getting alerts on their iPhones. Two didn’t find the AirTag that might have caused the alarm.
AirTags are getting a lot of attention because Apple’s network is so big, which makes them more interesting. In an April press release, the company said that its Find My Network is close to having 1 billion Apple devices on it, which is a lot. A lot of Apple products are in use around the world, Apple said in its January quarterly earnings call. There’s still room for the network to grow, though. You can choose whether or not to join Apple’s Find My network, so not all of Apple’s active products are in the network.
There are a lot of other Bluetooth trackers that have a lot less range. There have been more than 40 million Tiles sold around the world so far, and they’re still going. Tile’s network is a little bigger than that because it also includes products from other companies, like Amazon’s sidewalk-enabled Echo devices. But it’s not Apple. “You might not come within Bluetooth range of someone who has the Tile app on their phone all day,” says Eva Galperin, the EFF’s director of cybersecurity. But have a hard time going all day without being in Bluetooth range of another iPhone.
What Apple is doing to prevent unwanted tracking
Apple has put safeguards in place to stop people from tracking them, and it says it’s working with law enforcement on AirTags requests.
This is one of its most important safeguards. It sends an alert to iPhone owners when an AirTag has been moving with them for a long time. “The only silver lining” for Nader, the model who had been tracked, was that her iPhone was able to tell her that she might have been being tracked.” She called the police, but they couldn’t do much because she didn’t know who planted the device. Nader also said on the Tamron Hall Show that she didn’t know who did it. Read also; Apple AirTags are being misused to stalk people
Only when the recipient is home or at a significant place, like the gym or other places they go to a lot, or at the end of the day, does Apple send the unknown AirTag notification. But later this year, Apple is going to make an update that will send that alert even faster. Apple didn’t give any more information about when this will happen.
Other trackers don’t have as many privacy protections
Apple’s privacy policies are better than those of its competitors. Samsung’s SmartThings Find app lets users search for unknown Galaxy SmartTags that are nearby, but it doesn’t tell them about them right away. Samsung did not say whether it would add this feature in the future. People who use mobile devices will be happy to hear that the company says it’s “committed to giving them safe and secure experiences.”
Samsung, on the other hand, does have some privacy protections in place, though. To keep Bluetooth signals from being tracked for a long time, Apple changes the IDs of its tags on a regular basis. And all of the user’s data is also encrypted, as well.
If you buy a Tile product, you can’t use it to scan for nearby tags that don’t belong to you. That’s about to change though. A new feature called “Scan and Secure” will be available in early 2022. It will let people search for nearby “Tile” tags from the Tile app, even if they don’t have an account with the company at the time. Tile said it worked with advocacy groups to make the feature.
But just like Samsung, Tile needs to be pushed in the app to find nearby tags. It doesn’t scan for them on its own. Other than this, Tile said that it will keep talking to experts and working to improve this feature even more.