Sometimes, you don’t want things to “just work” for everyone.
On Tuesday, Apple announced a slew of new products at its “Spring Loaded” event. One of those products, AirTags, is a tiny disc that allows for the easy tracking of objects — or, as Apple hints at in its AirTags press release — unwilling people.
The basic idea behind AirTags is straightforward enough: People frequently misplace small but important items like keys or wallets, and an attached Bluetooth device that relays its location back to a linked iPhone makes it easy to locate those items if they’ve gone missing.
Combined with Apple’s Find My app (and a network of other Find My users scattered across a city), AirTag owners can track down their lost keys even if they’re not within immediate Bluetooth range.
“If AirTag is separated from its owner and out of Bluetooth range, the Find My network can help track it down,” reads the press release. “The Find My network is approaching a billion Apple devices and can detect Bluetooth signals from a lost AirTag and relay the location back to its owner, all in the background, anonymously and privately.”
That the tiny tracking fobs might be used, whether by stalkers or abusive partners, to keep tabs on unwitting victims is a real concern. It also appears to be one to which Apple has given at least some consideration.
Jammed in the middle of Tuesday’s press release is a list of features built into AirTags. It’s obvious that at least some of them are intended to counter the use of AirTags as people trackers.
“iOS devices can also detect an AirTag that isn’t with its owner, and notify the user if an unknown AirTag is seen to be traveling with them from place to place over time,” explains the press release. “And even if users don’t have an iOS device, an AirTag separated from its owner for an extended period of time will play a sound when moved to draw attention to it.”
The second feature — AirTags making noise if they’re away from a paired iPhone for an extended period of time — seems designed to prevent creeps from slipping AirTags in victims’ jackets or purses.
It’s unclear what the “sound” will be, or how loud it will be. We asked Apple just how long, exactly, is an “extended period of time” as well as what the company considers the abuse potential of AirTags to be. We received no immediate response.
Even so, this is clearly something that actual people are concerned about.
“Since I’m an Android user, I’m gonna be scared as fuck if I ever see an Apple AirTag mysteriously end up in my backpack or jacket pocket,” wrote PCMag Tech Reporter Michael Kan.
Apple says it gives people the ability to disable AirTags that are following them around.
“If a user detects an unknown AirTag, they can tap it with their iPhone or NFC-capable device and instructions will guide them to disable the unknown AirTag,” explains the press release.
As of yet, it’s unclear, however, how this will work in practice. And, of course, it only works for those with access to modern technology.
Hopefully, these combined safety features are just a start from Apple. Because when it comes to technology with the potential for abuse, it’s only a matter of time.