Apple knows it has an AirTag problem. And it's working on it

AirTags could work like Find My iPhone
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Konstantin Savusia)

Apple acknowledged that AirTags and the 'Find My' tracking app have been used for "unwanted tracking" of individuals and is promising to make changes to the product and the way it alerts users of any "unknown accessories" that could be tracking them without their knowledge.

AirTags are meant to be paired with personal items that can be easily lost, like keys, a wallet, or a purse, but they've also been used to track individuals without their knowledge. What's more, recent reports found that modified AirTags and other similar tracking devices with safety features disabled were readily available for sale online

Apple's announcement doesn't include any updates on concrete, proactive solutions to the problem, instead indicating that Apple is working with law enforcement (when supplied with a subpoena) to prosecute offenders and will also update the Find My app with new setup language. Whenever an AirTag is paired with an Apple device, the user will see a warning that tracking individuals without their knowledge is a crime.

Apple is also updating its unwanted tracking support documentation to better explain existing safety features.

"This page now includes additional explanations of which Find My accessories 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 disabling an AirTag, AirPods, or Find My network accessory," the announcement says. 

"There are also links to resources 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."

Apple has good ideas for addressing safety concerns, but they won't be ready for a while

The most promising updates Apple discusses in the announcement are precision tracking to better help users locate an unknown AirTag, which might even integrate an AR solution to help guide you to the exact location of the AirTag. 

The announcement also acknowledges the threat of someone muffling or tampering with the speaker on an AirTag, and says that the company is investigating using modified alerts on your iPhone to overcome the problem.

It also says it is working on refining the system logic used to identify unwanted tracking, so that people can be notified earlier that there is an unknown AirTag present.

All of these are good ideas, but they don't ultimately get to the fundamental problem: A device small enough to track your keys can easily be concealed to track you without your knowledge. From that starting point, everything else is strictly mitigation, and while those mitigation efforts might eventually be foolproof, it could be a while until Apple implements them.

John Loeffler
Components Editor

John (He/Him) is the Components Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.

You can find him online on Threads @johnloeffler.

Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 (just like everyone else).