Stalking with AirTags has been an ongoing problem since the product was released. The company has produced multiple updates that claim to increase user security, but so far nothing has really mitigated the risks.
Although it’s been more than a year and a half since Apple put a Doohickey tracking applet called AirTags on the market, the product has been abused time and time again by stalkers as a way to keep tabs on targets. This week, Apple silently released details about previous firmware updates for AirTags that let users know if there is an unknown AirTag on your person.
On Wednesday, Apple’s support page added details about the two most recent firmware updates, 2.0.24 and 2.0.36. While the latest update says it fixed AirTags accelerometer not working in “certain scenarios,” the previous update is very interesting. The update enables “a precision search feature to help locate unknown AirTags that have been detected moving with you.” In addition, the user’s iPhone will notify users when an AirTag that is no longer with its owner is on your person. The iPhone will also beep to indicate that it has been transferred.
Any paired AirTag should automatically download the update when it’s within 33 feet of Bluetooth range with the iPhone, though the feature only works on iPhone models 11, 12, 13, and 14. The iPhone also needs to be running iOs 16.2 or later. These updates add to a previous firmware update that included “adjusting unwanted tracking audio to more easily locate an unknown AirTag.”
Firmware updates were released both last month and this month, according to MacRumors, but it took the company so far to describe what the updates actually did. The feature works using ultra-wideband, which means AirTags in countries like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Indonesia, and more are still able to monitor unsuspecting people. Of course, the feature does nothing for any Android user who might have an AirTag on it. Therefore, Apple had to release a separate app.
The first update from last summer released AirTags if they weren’t near the original user’s phone after eight to 24 hours, but this clearly had mixed results. Last February, Apple released a statement about how they’re working to block AirTags for “unwanted tracking” and the company has already touted its “first-ever proactive system to alert you to unwanted tracking,” but users have been complaining about getting alerts when friends switch borrowed. The tech giant has promised more updates to allow users to locate the unwanted AirTag on their person.
Ever since they were released as tile tracker competitors, critics have questioned how ripe AirTags are for abuse. A May 2021 Washington Post article first raised the issue of AirTag stalking, but it has since gotten worse. Motherboard reported in April that it had uncovered 50 cases from the previous eight months where women had reported being tracked using AirTags. Indianapolis police said back in June that a woman used AirTags to stalk and later kill her boyfriend.
Apple has released updates over time to search for AirTags, but none of these new features have really exhausted the technically-enabled stalking threat. A new class action lawsuit filed by two women and stalking victims earlier this month alleges that the company was “careless” in publishing its AirTags. One of the women in that lawsuit claimed her iPhone alerted her to an AirTag in her vicinity.
What all this shows is how such relatively harmless technology can have severe unintended consequences, but Apple’s response to the privacy nightmare it has created has been slow and piecemeal. While the company claims it will give up any information to law enforcement regarding tracking, Apple’s strategy places the onus on ordinary people to be aware of the technology and actively research it on themselves.
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