A new review of AirTag reveals that Apple’s methods of preventing the tracker’s misuse are not enough. It also reveals several ways of how an abusive partner could evade Apple’s security measures of alerting stalking victims.
To discourage “unwanted tracking”, Apple built technology into AirTag to warn potential victims, including audible alarms and messages about an unknown tracking device moving with you on the iPhone. However, the audible alarm rang after three days for a mere 15 seconds.
Apple’s efforts to prevent misuse of AirTag “just aren’t sufficient”
The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler conducted this review by allowing a colleague to plant an AirTag on him and tracking him for a specific amount of time.
I got multiple alerts: from the hidden AirTag and on my iPhone. But it wasn’t hard to find ways an abusive partner could circumvent Apple’s systems. To name one: The audible alarm only rang after three days — and then it turned out to be just 15 seconds of light chirping. And another: While an iPhone alerted me that an unknown AirTag was moving with me, similar warnings aren’t available for the roughly half of Americans who use Android phones.
Apple has done more to combat stalking than small tracking-device competitors like Tile, which so far has done nothing. But AirTags show how even Apple, a company known for emphasizing security and privacy, can struggle to understand all the risks involved in creating tech that puts everyday things online.
In an interview, Apple’s Vice President of iPhone Marketing, Kaiann Drance said that the system can be modified so that Apple can change the timing and conditions of alerts as they start to grasp the requirements needed to prevent misuse of its trackers.
These are an industry-first, strong set of proactive deterrents. It’s a smart move and tunable system, and we can continue improving the logic and timing so that we can improve the set of detterents.
Drance did not confirm whether the company consulted domestic abuse experts in designing AirTags. She said, “We don’t have any more details to share about the process. But of course, we are open to hearing anything from those organizations.”
Corbin Streett of National Network to End Domestic Violence told Fowler, “The intimate partner threat model is unique. Generally, companies are thinking about external threats, not the person who knows your favorite color and your password and who sleeps next to you at night.”
As there are no sound alerts found for “half of Americans” that use Android phones like there are on iPhones, Fowler’s post has called for Apple to work with Google as it did with COVID-19 contact tracking to develop a feature that lets Android users have the same pop-up alerts as iPhone owners.
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