Security Risk? Here’s How Apple Will Prevent AirTags from Stalking You

Apple AirTags Concept Image Credit: Apple Tomorrow / Twitter
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Alongside the official unveiling of the “Find My Items” screens in the latest iOS 14.5 beta, we’re seeing several other features and settings that provide insights into some of the precautions that Apple will take to prevent AirTags and other Find My Network devices from being used for nefarious purposes.

Back in November, we actually saw the first indications of “anti-stalking” features in code found in iOS 14.3, which offered several clues about how AirTags and the Find My Network would work in general, but now iOS 14.5 beta 3 shows that Apple is actually going to be implementing an important security feature.

You see, one of the problems with devices like Apple’s rumoured AirTags is that while they’re great for finding and tracking your own items, these devices are small enough to track people and things that don’t belong to you.

It’s just another example of how technological innovations like these can be a double-edged sword.

Fortunately, it’s something that Apple’s already thought of, and it’s addressing it by making sure that your iPhone or iPad will let you know if it detects an AirTag or similar tracking tag nearby that doesn’t belong to you.

In addition to the new “Items” section, the latest iOS 14.5 beta also adds a new Item Safety Alerts setting that can be found on the Me tab. It’s enabled by default, and toggling it off will present a warning dialog that explains how the feature works and the risks of disabling it.

The owner of an unknown item will be able to see your location, and you will no longer receive notifications when an unknown item is found moving with you.

Warning in the iOS 14.5 Find My app

The setting was first noted by 9to5Mac’s Benjamin Mayo, who shared the details on Twitter, but if you’re running the latest iOS 14.5 beta, you can actually open the Find My app on your iPhone or iPad and see the setting and accompanying warning prompt for yourself.

Even though it’s somewhat irrelevant right now as there aren’t yet any tracking tags that tie into the Find My app, it does show us what’s coming.

While it’s not entirely clear how the feature will work in practice, it’s fair to say that users will probably receive a notification of some kind — perhaps even a higher-priority alert — when an unidentified AirTags or other Find My Network tracking device found nearby.

Based on the warning message shown above, it looks like this won’t necessarily be triggered simply by finding an item tracker in the vicinity, which makes sense since once AirTags are available and Apple’s Find My Network becomes popular, there’s a good chance we’ll all regularly be in the proximity of other people’s AirTags. However, that’s not really a problem unless those tags are following you around, and that’s likely when you’ll be notified that there’s a safety concern.

The code found in iOS 14.3 by Steve Moser last fall also gives us an indication of what these notifications may look like, including simply advisory messages like “This item has been moving with you for a while. The owner can see its location,” to more serious ones that advise users to contact local law enforcement if they feel that their safety is at risk.

There was even a sentence found in iOS 14.3 that reads, “If this item is not familiar to you, learn how to disassemble it and stop sharing your location,” although again it’s unclear exactly when and how these messages will be presented.

It’s also still a little unclear how this is going to work if you’re travelling with other people who might have AirTags or similar Find My Network devices on their person, since they would be moving with you. It’s possible that Apple may only show this alert if the AirTags or similar device doesn’t have its paired iPhone nearby, or that you may be able to disable the alert for known devices, but we’ll likely have to wait until iOS 14.5 and the Find My Network is officially unveiled before we know for sure.

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