AirTag lets users keep track of personal items like their keys, wallet, purse, backpack, luggage, and more through the Find My app. Since AirTag’s launch last April, users have written in to share countless stories of AirTag being instrumental in reuniting them with the things they value.
Apple has announced that thanks to AirTag and the Find My app, a customer who lost his wallet on the subway was able to track it down at a station across town. With the help of an AirTag placed inside a medical kit, a parent whose child lost critical medicine on the bus was later able to find it.
In a statement, Apple has confirmed that AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and the company condemns in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of its products.
“Unwanted tracking has long been a societal problem, and we took this concern seriously in the design of AirTag. It’s why the Find My network is built with privacy in mind, uses end-to-end encryption, and why we innovated with the first-ever proactive system to alert you of unwanted tracking. We hope this starts an industry trend for others to also provide these sorts of proactive warnings in their products.
We’ve become aware that individuals can receive unwanted tracking alerts for benign reasons, such as when borrowing someone’s keys with an AirTag attached, or when traveling in a car with a family member’s AirPods left inside. We also have seen reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes,” the statement says.
“Apple has been working closely with various safety groups and law enforcement agencies. Through our own evaluations and these discussions, we have identified even more ways we can update AirTag safety warnings and help guard against further unwanted tracking.”
Working with Law Enforcement
We have been actively working with law enforcement on all AirTag-related requests we’ve received. Based on our knowledge and on discussions with law enforcement, incidents of AirTag misuse are rare; however, each instance is one too many.
Every AirTag has a unique serial number, and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple can provide the paired account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement. We have successfully partnered with them on cases where information we provided has been used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was then apprehended and charged.
Law enforcement has shared their appreciation for the assistance we’ve provided in helping them find the source of unwanted tracking. We’ve identified additional improvements we can make in the information we share and the educational resources we provide, and we will be taking action, including making updates to our law enforcement documentation.
Advancements Coming to AirTag and the Find My Network
The following updates represent important steps Apple is taking:
New privacy warnings during AirTag setup: In an upcoming software update, every user setting up their AirTag for the first time will see a message that clearly states that AirTag is meant to track their own belongings, that using AirTag to track people without consent is a crime in many regions around the world, that AirTag is designed to be detected by victims, and that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag.
Addressing alert issues for AirPods: We’ve heard from users who have reported receiving an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert. We’ve confirmed this alert will not display if an AirTag is detected near you — only AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or a third-party Find My network accessory. In the same software update, we will be updating the alert users receive to indicate that AirPods have been traveling with them instead of an “Unknown Accessory.”
Updated support documentation: Today Apple is updating its unwanted tracking support article on apple.com to communicate the safety features built into AirTag, AirPods, and Find My network accessories.
This page now includes additional explanations of which Find My accessories may trigger an unwanted tracking alert, more visuals to provide specific examples of such alerts, and updated information on what to do after receiving an alert, including instructions for disabling an AirTag, AirPods, or Find My network accessory.
There are also links to resources individuals can use if they feel their safety is at risk, such as the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
We’re also investigating a series of updates that we plan to introduce later this year, including:
Precision Finding: This capability allows recipients of an unwanted tracking alert to locate an unknown AirTag with precision. iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 users will be able to use Precision Finding to see the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag when it is in range. As an iPhone user moves, Precision Finding fuses input from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope to guide them to the AirTag through a combination of sound, haptics, and visual feedback.
Display alert with sound: When AirTag automatically emits a sound to alert anyone nearby of its presence and is detected moving with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, we will also display an alert on your device that you can then take action on, like playing a sound or using Precision Finding, if available. This will help in cases where the AirTag may be in a location where it is hard to hear, or if the AirTag speaker has been tampered with.
Refining unwanted tracking alert logic: Our unwanted tracking alert system uses sophisticated logic to determine how we alert users. We plan to update our unwanted tracking alert system to notify users earlier that an unknown AirTag or Find My network accessory may be traveling with them.
Tuning AirTag’s sound: Currently, iOS users receiving an unwanted tracking alert can play a sound to help them find the unknown AirTag. We will be adjusting the tone sequence to use more of the loudest tones to make an unknown AirTag more easily findable.
We design our products to provide a great experience, but also with safety and privacy in mind. Across Apple’s hardware, software, and services teams, we’re committed to listening to feedback and innovating to make improvements that continue to guard against unwanted tracking.” The statement says.