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Apple is updating its AirTags trackers to address stalking concerns

·Technology Editor
·3 min read

Apple (AAPL) is responding to safety concerns about its AirTag trackers with improvements that it says will improve user privacy. The tech giant on Thursday announced a software change that will address false alerts caused by things like AirPods, and future updates that will improve the ability to locate unwanted AirTags.

“We have been actively working with law enforcement on all AirTag-related requests we’ve received,” the company said in a statement. “Based on our knowledge and on discussions with law enforcement, incidents of AirTag misuse are rare; however, each instance is one too many.”

The move comes amid reports that individuals have been using the trackers to stalk people either by placing them into victims’ belongings or hiding them in their vehicles’ license plates.

According to Apple, users will now receive a notification when they initially set up their AirTags telling them specifically that the devices are designed to track their belongings, not other people. It will also point out that tracking someone without their knowledge is illegal in many areas of the world.

That’s a fine update, but it’s uncertain whether that will deter actual stalkers.

The company also says it will fix false positive notifications people may receive when their iPhone detects a pair of AirPods nearby. Currently, if your iPhone sees a pair of AirPods near you, it will alert you with a notification saying “Unknown Accessory Detected.” That’s because AirPods use the same Find My network that lets Apple’s AirTags ping the more than 1 billion iOS devices out in the world to provide their exact location when they’ve been misplaced.

I’ve gotten this alert before, and while it’s certainly unnerving, it’s always turned out to come from my wife’s AirPods being near my iPhone.

Going forward, Apple says it’s working on a series of updates that will be released later this year that will allow you to use the same precision finding feature that helps you locate your own lost AirTag to find AirTags that someone may be using to track you.

Currently, your iPhone will update you with a notification if it finds an unknown AirTag traveling with you. The AirTag will also play a tone, but that doesn’t help if the tracker is, say, located on the outside of a car.

The ability to track AirTags precisely will likely help bring at least some relief to users who are afraid of being followed.

What’s more, Apple says that it will increase the sound the AirTags emit so they’re easier to hear. The company is also going to decrease the amount of time it takes for your iPhone to identify an unknown AirTag that’s nearby.

Currently, your iPhone will notice an unknown AirTag near you after between 8 and 12 hours. Dropping it to a shorter amount of time could help stalking victims recognize they’re being tracked faster. But reducing the time to a few minutes or an hour would be problematic, because users would begin to receive notifications for unknown AirTags if they happened to be seated next to someone with an AirTag on their keys at a restaurant or movie.

In January, model Brooks Nader said that someone slipped an AirTag into her jacket pocket while she was at a bar in Manhattan. Social media users have also said the trackers have been placed inside their license plate brackets.

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