AirTag can combat theft and harassment, but not both at the same time

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  • Apple should be applauded for introducing updates to the anti-bullying AirTag, but its capabilities may be punished at the same time.
  • Do you want to fight against theft or harassment?
  • The AirTag dilemma

Apple should be applauded for introducing updates to the anti-bullying AirTag, but its capabilities may be punished at the same time.

Following a series of incidents that saw several of the company's AirTag trackers hidden in victims' cars or personal belongings with the intention of tracking their movements, Apple has publicly announced a series of measures it will take to combat against this.

In an official statement, the company acknowledges “that the AirTag has been attempted to be used for malicious or criminal purposes.” Although he says such incidents are rare and once again points to the anti-harassment measures already built into the AirTag, he admits « we don't want them to happen at all. »

Apple says it has worked with authorities to combat harassment related to AirTags and reveals something that may not be widely known: using Apple ID serial numbers and account details, AirTags can be traced back to 'to their owners.

Apple says it will provide this data in response to a valid request or subpoena, and says it has done so in at least one case that led to the perpetrator's capture and indictment.

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But the company said it plans to do more, detailing a number of changes to AirTags and the Find My feature.

  • Apple has updated its support articles to further explain the privacy features built into AirTags and similar devices, and to provide resources for victims of harassment.
  • As part of an upcoming software update, AirTag owners will receive an alert during setup explaining that the device should not be used for harassment, that such behavior may be illegal, and (as explained above) Apple can help authorities catch harassers and it will.
  • In the same update, “Unknown Accessory Detected” alerts will be more informative, specifying when the accessory is a set of AirPods.

More changes will come “later this year.”

  • When you receive an alert from an unknown tracker, you can use the precise search feature to find out exactly where it is (if you have an iPhone 11 or later). You will receive a notification on your device offering various actions, including searching precisely and playing sounds.
  • The sounds themselves will be modified “to play louder”.
  • The logic used to trigger unwanted tracking alerts will be updated. Apple says this means users will be alerted sooner, but I hope it's more sophisticated than that.

Do you want to fight against theft or harassment?

The fact that Apple has addressed the issue shows that it takes AirTag bullying seriously, and rightly so.

But it seems that Apple still hasn't found a way to reconcile one of the main functions of the AirTag, which is to prevent or minimize damage caused by theft, with the prevention of harassment.

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Someone with an expensive e-bike, for example, could find a clever hiding place for an AirTag under the saddle and store it safely so that a potential thief cannot find it and is easily tracked by the owner or (of preference) the police.

But a comprehensive suite of anti-stalking measures would quickly alert that thief to the AirTag's presence and, starting with the next software update, its precise location.

Unless the promised logic upgrade is very clever, it's hard to see how an AirTag could tell the difference between a thief and a victim of harassment, since both are people who move with him than he does. cannot recognize and are unaware of its presence. .

If we want to catch the thief, we endanger the victim of the harassment; if we want to protect the victim of harassment, we let the thief escape.

The AirTag dilemma

Choosing between either priority is a no-brainer, and of course Apple should focus on bullying. The material can be replaced; people must come first.

But the company doesn't yet seem to have realized the fundamental conflict that lies at the heart of the AirTag's feature set. It has two functions: to help an owner find an item they have lost and to help them find a stolen item. And the second is the same as harassment. This is benevolent harassment; a rod with good reason. But it's exactly the same thing.

What is the future of AirTag? I am not sure. Maybe it goes back to the first feature and it's just a convenient way to find that wallet that was left at a store. Maybe the logic will become so sophisticated that it can actually distinguish when it's used to track a thief and when it's used by a thief to track a potential victim, although I don't see how that could work.

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Original article published in Macworld UK.