Apple creates personal safety guide as AirTag issues rise

On Tuesday, Apple quietly launched a personal safety user guide to help “anyone concerned about or experiencing abuse, harassment or harassment using technology.” The guide is a resource center to help people determine what their options are if they want to remove someone’s access to shared information, as well as personal security features available in the Apple ecosystem. Most notably, it includes a “Stay safe with AirTag and other Find My accessories” page at a time when increasing numbers of people have reported being harassed with the devices.

As pointed out 9to5Mac, the hub primarily repackages a data privacy guide that was first published about a year ago. Overall, it’s a good thing to create an easily accessible resource to help people protect their information or know what to do if their security is at risk. The hub is divided into an introductory explainer, a section called “review and take action”, personal security checklists, and a list of available security and privacy tools. Along with AirTag security, the guide also covers issues like blocking unknown login attempts, how to store data securely in iCloud, setting up Touch and FaceID, and controlling how others can see your position.

While the guide is helpful, the timing isn’t surprising. Several points of sale, including CNBC, BBC News, The Guardian, and The New York Times, published articles over the past few weeks detailing several instances of users receiving alerts that they had been tracked by an unknown AirTag. Others shared their personal experiences directly on social media like TikTok, and in early January, Sports Illustrated Model Brooks Nader shared her own experience on her Instagram Stories.

When AirTags were launched in April 2021, Apple pointed out that the devices had built-in anti-harassment measures. This included notifications sent to iPhones if an AirTag was detected moving with them over time and sound alerts. However, some critics have strongly criticized the measures as insufficient, especially since it initially took AirTags three days to sound an alert. Apple then changed this to a random period between eight and 24 hours after being separated from the owner’s iPhone. Apple also recently released the Tracker Detect app to help Android users search for unwanted AirTags in their vicinity. Pennsylvania State Representative John Galloway has also proposed legislation banning the use of AirTags for anything other than finding lost items.

Apple’s AirTag security article in the Personal Security User Guide is pretty basic. It gives a simple overview of how Bluetooth IDs in the Find My network are changed frequently, what anti-harassment measures are, what to do if you hear an AirTag alert or receive a notification, and how to check AirTags on Android. The key is to identify if the item has been lost, play a sound to locate the AirTag, and notify local law enforcement if a user feels their safety is at risk. However, a common theme in recent reports is that despite receiving notifications, police did not know how to help victims and that attempts to find the sneaky AirTags were not always successful.

That said, the guide contains an important reminder: you may not be able to receive these alerts if you don’t have a compatible device running the correct software. To start, your device should be updated to at least iOS or iPad OS 14.5. Luckily, while this covers the majority of currently supported Apple devices, not everyone is diligent about keeping their firmware up to date. If you are unsure, you can check here if your device is compatible. You can also go to Settings > General > Software Update to check if you are using the latest version of iOS and iPad OS.

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Susan W. Lloyd