Apple addresses AirTags security flaw with minor privacy update

It’s been a little over a month since Apple released its AirTag Bluetooth trackers and it looks like the company is finally doing something about its privacy features — or lack, thereof. 

First reported by CNET, Apple is pushing out a firmware update that makes it easier for people to identify when unwanted AirTags are traveling with them. 

As noted by 9to5Mac, the update will be installed automatically when the AirTag’s in range of your iPhone. It should list the build number as 1A276d and the firmware version of 1.0.276.

In a statement to Mashable, Apple confirmed the following changes within the update:

“The recent introduction of AirTag included industry first proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking. 

Following up on our commitment to continue to improve AirTag’s privacy and security, starting today we will be updating the time period after which an AirTag that is separated from its owner will play a sound when movedThis time period is changing from three days to a random time between 8 and 24 hours. 

Later this year, we will also introduce an Android application that will enable users to detect an AirTag or Find My network-enabled accessory separated from its owner that may be traveling with a user.”

Well, that took long enough. 

When I reviewed AirTags back in April, I criticized Apple for making it easy to stalk anyone and everyone with these small trackers. Moments after Mashable’s review went live, Gizmodo also published its review calling AirTags out for the same exact thing. 

Coincidence? Definitely not. 

In the weeks that followed, other publications followed suit — including the Washington Post, Wired, Toms Guide, Ars Technica, and more. AirTags, which were originally praised for being “stalker-proof,” were finally being called out for being the exact opposite. 

Even though Apple bragged about its top-notch privacy features, plenty of loopholes were found during my experience with it. 

AirTags connect to Apple’s Find My Network — the company’s crowdsourced app that allows users to find missing devices. Basically, an AirTag leverages this network and other iPhones around it to refresh its current location. And with a billion active iPhones devices, it makes it very easy to use an AirTag to track people who are out of Bluetooth range. 

I was able to stalk my roommates across New York City (with their permission, of course) using just an AirTag and my iPhone for an entire weekend. Even with iOS 14.5 installed, it took about two hours for one of them to receive an ‘Unwanted AirTag’ notification. 

And since neither of my roommates were ever away from me for a full three days, that sound alert never went off. It actually reset every time they were within range of my iPhone.  

While a new 8- to 24-hour window for an alert sounds way better than three days, that still gives an abuser or stalker plenty of time to follow someone home. The update also doesn’t address the concerning amount of time it takes for someone to receive an unwanted AirTag alert to their iPhone. 

As for that Android app, well, perhaps Apple should’ve launched that alongside the AirTags. According to Statista, the forecasted amount of Android users in 2021 is currently at 131.2 million (so far). 

Until the app comes out, months from now, millions of people are at risk of being stalked or abused with an AirTag for up to an entire day before it even makes a peep. But hey, it’s better than no Android app at all.

For now, Apple’s advice for people who find themselves being tracked by an AirTag is to … take out the battery. I wish I were kidding. 

This new update isn’t as extensive as I’d imagined. Sure, I’m happy that Apple has acknowledged the cracks in its AirTag privacy features. But I was really hoping to see features like ongoing alerts (whenever an AirTag is in use and connected to your iPhone), an even smaller window of time for the AirTag to start beeping, quicker unwanted AirTag alerts, and the inability to track beyond Bluetooth range. 

Let’s just hope this isn’t the last of the safety updates we’ll see Apple rolling out for these dangerous lil’ Bluetooth trackers.

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