Become a MacRumors Supporter for $25/year with no ads, private forums, and more!

MacRumors

macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
54,669
16,836


Apple has shared considerable information regarding the safety mechanisms in place within its Find My network and AirTags, that prevent unwanted tracking. One of the biggest measures is the ability of an iPhone to detect if an unknown AirTag has been following a person for a period of time. In the unfortunate event that does occur, the iPhone can display an alert.

airtag-privacy-alert.jpg

AirTag is joining an already crowded market, with Tile and other companies that have already produced item trackers for the last couple of years. So the challenges Apple faced with developing AirTag aren't entirely new. However, Apple's entry into a market typically leads to increased scrutiny over the real-world implications of the products and services.

Since their announcement earlier this month, Apple has played a fine balancing act in being transparent about the mechanisms in place within AirTags and the Find My network while ensuring not enough information is public for possible stalkers to find ways to exploit the system. Apple has publicly said that a user's iPhone can detect if an AirTag, unassociated with that iPhone, is found to be tracking it over an "extended period of time."

Apple hasn't gone into further detail until now. In a statement to Fast Company, regarding concerns about how AirTags could be used for unwanted tracking, Apple says that the iPhone alert for an unknown AirTag will be triggered once a user arrives at either their home address or a location the iPhone has learned to be frequently visited.
Apple has built some protections into this system. If you are an iPhone user, for instance, and someone has placed an AirTag on your person, your phone will eventually alert you that an AirTag that isn’t yours has been found “moving with you.” Apple didn’t clarify how quickly or often this alert will arrive, but it did share that it will occur when you arrive at your home (the address stored in your Apple “Me” card) or at certain other locations that your phone has learned you frequent over time. Apple declined to disclose further specifics, citing the interest of public safety.
While not entirely clear based on the statement and report, if a user is, for example, traveling and not at their typical home address, the iPhone will still likely send an alert after a certain period of time, which has yet to be disclosed. The home address trigger, described by Fast Company, is likely not the first metric the iPhone will use to alert a user, but rather a safeguard in place in case the "extended period of time" has elapsed without an alert.

AirTags, alongside the purple-colored iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12, will begin arriving to most customers today. It's certainly possible that Apple could provide more specifics on the iPhone alert, especially regarding the trigger for when a user arrives home. For example, if a stalker was tracking an iPhone user with an AirTag, and they're only alerted to the fact when they arrive home, the stalker would presumably already have their home location, based on the report from Fast Company.

We've reached out to Apple for more clarity around the alert and home address trigger and will update this post if we hear back.

Article Link: Privacy Alert for Unknown AirTag Triggers When a User Returns Home
 
  • Haha
Reactions: rafark

laptech

macrumors 65816
Apr 26, 2013
1,010
1,378
Earth
AirTags, alongside the purple-colored iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12, will begin arriving to most customers today. It's certainly possible that Apple could provide more specifics on the iPhone alert, especially regarding the trigger for when a user arrives home. For example, if a stalker was tracking an iPhone user with an AirTag, and they're only alerted to the fact when they arrive home, the stalker would presumably already have their home location, based on the report from Fast Company.

Actually, stalkers would want to know where the person lives or works hence why the airtag being placed on them in the first place, so to have the iphone alert the intended target when they get to their place of work or home defeats the object of the alert system. Also, if the iphone alerts the intended target to the presence of an unknown airtag, it the iphone going to be able to locate where the unknown airtag is, or is the intended target going to have to go on a hunting expedition to find where the unknown airtag has been placed.
 

MrGimper

macrumors 604
Sep 22, 2012
7,603
9,369
Andover, UK
Best thing to do is wait a few days and have some youtube people check every scenario with losing it, 'tracking/stalking' it, other people (same place/other place) etc. And see what whappens, when it happens and what options there are.

Yep, and then compare all that to what it's marketed to be for/to do, and then stop all the moaners.
 
  • Disagree
Reactions: ModusOperandi

chris4565

macrumors 6502a
Sep 22, 2018
850
403
That is not what the article is saying. It is saying about airtags not assigned to the owner showing up as 'unknown' on their iphone.
But BlueCreek is still right. Because once a thief (who carries an unknown tracker with them) gets home, they get alerted and can then turn the tracker off --> The person who lost the item can't track it anymore. But, then again, it has to be mentioned that AirTags aren't designed to track stolen items.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bryn0076

User 6502

macrumors 6502
Mar 6, 2014
417
1,399
AirTags aren't designed to track stolen items. They're designed to find items you have misplaced or lost. Any "stolen item tracking" is a bonus, but not by design.
If you lose something on a train or a bus people will be notified and can either disable the air tag or even use the notification to steal it (for example some thief would receive a notification that there is a lost item, potentially a wallet or something valuable, on board).
 

sirozha

macrumors 68000
Jan 4, 2008
1,632
2,018
This is an opportune time for an app for adulterers that would alert one immediately of an unknown Airtag in close proximity and moving in sync with the iPhone. Make it cost $99.99. Call it Adultr. Save hundreds of millions of marriages and make billions of dollars while doing it.
 
  • Like
  • Haha
Reactions: yegon and evanmarx

mazz0

macrumors 68030
Mar 23, 2011
2,864
2,820
Leeds, UK
Seriously though, this lack of clarity is annoying for everyone isn't it? Are these things remotely useful for tracking stolen items? We really don't know. It's very un-Apple.
 
  • Disagree
Reactions: Tech for Kings

Seanm87

macrumors 68000
Oct 10, 2014
1,702
2,987
This seems incredibly dodgy to me. It should alert people far sooner than this.

Imagine if this ends up with people being killed. Sometimes tech goes too far.

It should alert users as soon as that Bluetooth connection (50ft I think?) is broken.
 
  • Haha
Reactions: ModusOperandi

evanmarx

macrumors member
Oct 23, 2001
98
6
Switzerland
So essentially, Android users are effed..they are easily trackable via clandestine Airtags... paranoid Android users might have to buy the cheapest iphone to get notified ;-) But still, it amazes me how much thinking goes into Apple's security concepts, even if they cannot prevent 100% of shenanigans...
 
  • Like
Reactions: SantaFeNM

BvizioN

macrumors 603
Mar 16, 2012
5,477
4,042
Manchester, UK
If you lose something on a train or a bus people will be notified and can either disable the air tag or even use the notification to steal it (for example some thief would receive a notification that there is a lost item, potentially a wallet or something valuable, on board).
Except that it doesn't. It will only notify a thief if a thief does the thief thing and steals the item and heads home with it. In which case the thief already knows it has something that does not belong to him/her.
 

LiE_

macrumors 65816
Mar 23, 2013
1,270
3,731
UK
That's a relief, at least the stalker will only be notified when I reach my home address...
 

KeithJenner

macrumors 65816
Sep 30, 2010
1,262
363
This seems incredibly dodgy to me. It should alert people far sooner than this.

Imagine if this ends up with people being killed. Sometimes tech goes too far.

It should alert users as soon as that Bluetooth connection (50ft I think?) is broken.
That would result in so many false alarms that it would also be a problem (and probably mean that a person being stalked would just ignore the warning anyway).

However, the ability to track someone all the way to their home isn’t really in line with the privacy statements that Apple made previously, so I would hope that there are other things which may also trigger it. Perhaps not enough is being made of the other potential locations which would trigger an alert.

As I said previously, if people don’t get alerted until they get home then it would suggest that the privacy is relying on the finding of the airtag and reporting to the authorities as a deterrent, rather than actually hindering the stalking in the first place.

A scenario which would seem to cause concern would be where someone slips a tag onto someone else (maybe at a bar or club) so that they can find where they are returning to in order to break in and attack them. In that situation they can also recover the airtag and therefore not leave it as evidence. I have absolutely no idea how likely it would be for someone to use an airtag for this, but I can just imagine the headlines if they did.
 

sirozha

macrumors 68000
Jan 4, 2008
1,632
2,018
Seriously though, this lack of clarity is annoying for everyone isn't it? Are these things remotely useful for tracking stolen items? We really don't know. It's very un-Apple.
The bottom line is that tracking a stolen item is the flip side of tracking a person. So if you want to allow the tracking of a stolen item, you are comoromising someone’s privacy. If you want to protect people’s privacy, you are compromising the ability to track an item. So, the airtag has an intrinsic conflict of these two concepts that cannot be solved. If you allow object tracking, you allow people tracking. If you disallow people tracking, you compromise object tracking.

If I were a thief, I would designate a place other than my home and enter it in My card in Contacts as my home address. I would then take the stolen objects to that place to make sure they are not being tracked before bringing the stolen objects home. I would also buy an Airtag, pair it with a throwaway iPhone, place it in Lost Mode, and test this strategy to see how it works.

It appears to me that the airtag tracking can be defeated relatively easily by a person who doesn’t want to be tracked - be it a thief or an adulterer.

So, what are airtags good for? They are great for tracking your dog without having to pay for a GPS tracker - as long as you live in a densely populated place in a first-world country where the iPhone penetration is close to 50%. They are also great for precision tracking of an object inside your residence in the range of Bluetooth.
 

splitpea

macrumors 65816
Oct 21, 2009
1,028
263
Among the starlings
Is this so that you don’t get alerts every time you have a friend in your car who has an airtag on their keys?

But agreed that this doesn’t solve for the stalker problem very well.

Then again, a lot of stalkers aren’t strangers and already know where their victim’s home is, so preventing tracking then becomes about being able to live your life without being followed.

Still
 
  • Like
Reactions: FindingAvalon

gvanvoor

macrumors newbie
Oct 24, 2013
26
112
I wonder what happens if you e.g. go on a week long hiking trip with a group of friends some of whom have airtags attached to various items. A plethora of unknown airtags showing up on your phone for sure, but will it go insane with warnings after a while?
 
Register on MacRumors! This sidebar will go away, and you'll see fewer ads.