Apple Says It Will Make AirTags a Little Less Scary

Apple Says It Will Make AirTags a Little Less Scary
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Apple’s AirTags are effective little Bluetooth trackers, but the thing that makes them work so well — leveraging Apple’s extensive Find My network of devices that are constantly pinging each other — also makes them extremely problematic because you can be tracked without your knowledge in what is essentially real-time. Apple made some effort to prevent stalking when AirTags launched, but in our testing, the devices didn’t go far enough to alert people that they were being tracked. Today, the company is rolling out an update that slightly improves those features.

Apple told CNET that it is changing the timeframe in which an AirTag will emit a sound to alert a person who is unknowingly travelling with the device on or near them. At launch, AirTags chirped after three days of unwanted tracking for those without iPhones — meaning that if someone tracked you throughout the day but the AirTag returned home to its owner at night, you’d never know. That window has been shortened to a “random time inside a window that lasts between 8 and 24 hours,” CNET reported.

This, frankly, could be better, though it is definitely an improvement.

iPhone users who are near unknown AirTags receive alerts about unwanted tracking in the form of notifications on their phones, though Apple hasn’t said when those alerts come through and, in our testing, they didn’t work well. Those notifications are based on both time and location, but when I tracked my husband on multiple occasions, he never received alerts, despite being away from me for hours.

Apple told CNET it’s rolling out an app for Android users later this year that will send notifications about unwanted tracking that will be similar to how the iPhone alerts work. (According to CNET, the same applies to other third-party tracking devices that can also leverage the Find My network.) Hopefully, both the shortened window for audible alerts and improved notifications on Android phones will discourage stalkers from misusing AirTags, though Apple has more work to do here in terms of making the alerts more consistent.

Some have raised concerns that improving AirTags’ unwanted tracking features could mean that thieves will be alerted when a device attached to an item is near them, making it harder to hunt down your stuff when it’s stolen. But if that’s the trade-off for preventing abusers from being able to terrorize their victims, then so be it.