Apple releases personal safety guide to address tech-enabled stalking

Apple's Personal Safety User Guide hopes to address privacy concerns concerning the use of AirTags, which have been accused of enabling stalking. — Photo by Đức Trịnh on Unsplash

Apple has released a Personal Safety User Guide, to address concerns about how its devices may be misused for technology-enabled stalking or harassment.

The Verge reported that the timing of the guide comes following many news reports on people being stalked by way of having an AirTag passed on to them without their knowledge.

An AirTag is a tracking device that sends out a Bluetooth signal to nearby devices on Apple’s Find My network, which ping the location to the AirTag owner’s iCloud, enabling them to find it on a map.

While designed to be tagged onto things like keychains or luggage so owners can find their missing items, placing it on another person would effectively enable a stalker to track the targeted person.

In the User Guide, Apple said that to discourage unwanted tracking, Find My notifies users if an unknown AirTag or other Find My accessory is seen moving with them for a period of time, by sending a message, “Item Detected Near You”.

“If you see this message on your device, an AirTag or other Find My accessory that has been separated from the person who registered it is traveling with you, and the owner might be able to see its location,” it states, assuring that possibly the AirTag was just “attached to an item you are borrowing”.

It advised users who find an AirTag to use any device with Near-Field Communication (NFC) – a feature common on modern smartphones – to check if it was marked lost by the owner.

If the person feels their safety is at risk, they are recommended to contact law enforcement. Users may need to provide the AirTag or its serial number.

The Verge pointed out that when launched in April 2021, Apple emphasised AirTags had anti-stalking measures built-in, including the notification warning.

However, reviewers criticised the feature, noting that it could take up to three days before it sent an alert. Apple later changed the notification warning to ring within eight to 24 hours.

The company even released a Tracker Detect app for Android users to find “trackers separated from their owners”.

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