An update on AirTag and spam tracking
AirTag allows users to keep track of personal items such as keys, wallet, purse, backpack, luggage, etc. through the Find My app. Since AirTag’s launch last April, users have written to share countless AirTag stories helping to reunite them with the things they value. Using AirTag and the Find My app, a customer who lost their wallet on the subway was able to find it at a train station on the other side of town. Using an AirTag placed inside a medical kit, a parent whose child lost essential medication on the bus was then able to find him.
AirTag was designed to help people locate their belongings, not to track the people or property of others, and we strongly condemn any misuse of our products. Spam tracking has long been a social issue, and we took this concern seriously when designing AirTag. That’s why the Find My network is built with privacy in mind, uses end-to-end encryption, and why we’ve innovated the first-ever proactive system to alert you to unwanted tracking. We hope this starts a trend in the industry for others to provide these types of proactive warnings in their products as well.
We’ve become aware that individuals may 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 member’s AirPods of the family left inside. We have also seen reports of malicious actors attempting to use AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes.
Apple works closely with various security groups and law enforcement agencies. Through our own reviews and these discussions, we’ve identified even more ways to update AirTag security warnings and help guard against further unwanted tracking.
Working with law enforcement
We have actively worked with law enforcement on all AirTag-related requests we have received. Based on our knowledge and discussions with law enforcement, incidents of AirTag misuse are rare; however, each instance is one too many.
Each AirTag has a unique serial number, and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple may provide linked account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement. We have successfully partnered in cases where the information we provided was used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was then apprehended and charged.
Upcoming progress for AirTag and Find My Network
The following updates represent important steps taken by Apple:
- New privacy warnings when setting up AirTag: In an upcoming software update, every user setting up their AirTag for the first time will see a clear message stating that AirTag is intended to track their own belongings, that using AirTag to track people without their consent is a crime in many parts of the world. , that the AirTag is designed to be detected by victims and that law enforcement may request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag.
- Fixing alert issues for AirPods: We’ve heard from users who have reported receiving an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert. We’ve confirmed that this alert won’t show up if an AirTag is detected near you – only AirPods (3rd gen), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or a Find My third-party network accessory. In the same software update, we’ll update the alert users receive to indicate AirPods are traveling with them instead of an “unknown accessory.”
- Updated support documentation: Today, Apple is updating its spam tracking support article on apple.com to communicate security features built into AirTag, AirPods, and Find My Network accessories. This page now includes additional explanations of Find My accessories that 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 deactivating an AirTag, AirPods, or Find My Network Accessory. There are also links to resources that 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 looking at a series of updates that we plan to introduce later this year, including:
- Search for precision: This capability allows recipients of an unwanted tracking alert to precisely locate an unknown AirTag. 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’s in range. As an iPhone user moves, Precision Finding merges inputs from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope to guide them to the AirTag through a combination of audible, haptic, and visual feedback.
- Show alert with sound: When AirTag automatically plays a sound to alert anyone nearby of its presence and is detected moving with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, we’ll also display an alert on your device for you to take action on, such as playing a sound or using Precision research, if available. This will help in cases where the AirTag may be in a location where it is difficult to hear, or if the AirTag speaker has been tampered with.
- Refinement of spam alert logic: Our spam 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 accessory may be traveling with them.
- AirTag sound setting: Currently, iOS users receiving an unwanted tracking alert can play a sound to help them find the unknown AirTag. We will adjust the tone sequence to make more use of the loudest tones to make an unknown AirTag easier to find.
We design our products to deliver a great experience, but also with security 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 protect against unwanted tracking.