After a series of privacy concerns by independent reviewers, Apple announced its new approach in its recent software update. The update consists of several new ways which warn people of a suspicious AirTag and give them the tools to act against them.
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What is an Apple AirTag?
In 2021, Apple released its long-awaited AirTag for $29 or $99 for a four-in-a-pack. Using onboard sensors and wireless signals, the AirTag can keep track of items like wallets, bags, or even pets.
It has a rating of IP67 water resistance, which means it is submergeable for up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. You will never have to worry about getting it wet.
Not only is it dust-resistant, but it also has a stainless steel removable cover. With an expected battery life of at least a year, it is a small but sturdy device with an endless list of uses.
In line with the net-zero climate impact goal, Apple also uses 100% recycled tin for its AirTag mainboards and recycled wood fiber for its packaging. If you’re feeling it, Hermès even released a $699 accessory to go with it.
There are three types of ways that the AirTag is used to locate things-map directions, triggered sound, or precision finding via UWB, which shows a range saying how close you are to the item. Similar to other trackers, the AirTag helps direct owners to its location and emit a sound.
However, what makes the AirTag different is the use of the Find My network. Here is what the Find My network does and why it is well worth the money.
The power of the Find My network
A staple for Apple products, the Find My network allows users to keep track of Apple devices with the same Apple ID. The Find My network uses other Apple devices nearby to communicate the location of nearby devices, including the AirTag.
Much of the precision of the AirTag is attributable to its use of the U1 ultra-wideband chip used in its newest line of Apple devices which includes the iPhone 11, Apple Watch 6, and HomePod mini. Using encrypted location transmissions, the AirTag does not need the internet to reveal its location.
With over a billion compatible phones in the market working to help users keep track of any AirTag worldwide, it is a capable tracking device. So, what is the problem with it?
Privacy concerns with the AirTag
These days, an increasing number of people are concerned about reducing privacy risks on top of using password managers and VPN. In fact, it’s one of the key reasons why people choose Apple over other mobile phone manufacturers.
So, while the initial intention of the AirTag was for a way to track objects, many users have pointed out that it is usable for more than just that. According to concerned people, one of the biggest dangers is the possibility of stalking.
According to the Washington Post, stalking someone using the AirTag was “frighteningly easy.” Because of its size, it is virtually untraceable to an unsuspecting person. In its initial release, iPhones had warnings should an unknown AirTag was traveling with them.
When an unknown AirTag is detected to be with you for long periods, your iPhone will give an “AirTag Found Moving With You” notification. This notification does not get sent back to their original owners. Unfortunately, one of the loopholes of this feature is that it is not available for Android users.
Not soon after, Apple released several announcements on the future of AirTag privacy and security improvements which included software updates to solve these issues.
“The recent introduction of AirTag included industry-first proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking,” Apple said in a statement.
Here’s a list of what to expect from the new Apple AirTag privacy changes so far.
Changes in the noise alert windows
Initially, the AirTag sounds an alert after three days of separation from its paired device. With the new update, AirTag will begin to play randomly within an 8 to 24-hour window. This change helps alert users about an AirTag that does not belong to them sooner than previously possible.
AirTag disabling features
Users who find that an AirTag is attached to them without their consent can now also disable it. By tapping an iPhone or any other NFC-capable phone, users will receive instructions on disabling its tracking. Alternatively, you may also abandon it or bring it to a police station as evidence.
If you are wondering how to get your AirTag updated, don’t worry. The AirTag will automatically update when in the range of an iPhone. Bear in mind that this will only work for iPhones with iOS 14.5 onwards, which means that an iPhone 6 or older cannot update your AirTag for you.
Android alert system
Apple users have long enjoyed the benefits of the Find My network-enabled safety features. In the future, Apple is planning to introduce something similar for Android users too.
“Later this year, we will also introduce an Android application that will enable users to detect an AirTag or Find My network-enabled accessory separated from its owner that may be traveling with a user,” said the company in a statement.
The Android version of the Find My app is still currently under development, so full details are still unavailable. While it is sure that the Android app can locate an AirTag, it is not yet clear if it can do so for other devices such as the iPhone, iPad, or Mac. It is also not revealed if an Apple account is necessary to sync across devices.
Moving Forward with a Privacy-Focused AirTag
Despite its detractors, it’s important to understand that initially, the AirTag had better privacy features than its competitors already. For example, the initial version of the AirTag software also had unique, Bluetooth-identifying codes that change every few hours. Additionally, the AirTag also already encrypts its communication between devices.
Lastly, it has a Pairing Lock feature, which prevents people from using a stolen AirTag. Similar to the iPhone Activation lock, this feature also protects users by discouraging theft. The serial number also does not reveal any information about its owner unless Lost Mode is activated. However, over a billion active Apple users have a higher standard for privacy and security for its products for a reason. As part of Apple’s push for safety, it is more than fair for users to want more protection from its possible abuse.
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Last Updated on July 21, 2021.