Losing your stuff stinks. Finding your stuff is amazing. Apple entered the tiny Bluetooth tracker game with their new Airtags. These little, round trackers can slip into or be attached to almost anything. Once there, you can track your stuff — wallets, backpacks, cars, your favorite teddy bear — as easily as saying, "Hey Siri, where's teddy?" A speaker on the tracker will let you know where it's at if you are in Bluetooth range. You can also use the Find My app to tap into the community of millions iPhone, iPad, and Mac users around the world to also help track your tiny tracker. Yes, there are privacy concerns. Yes, Apple has taken steps to address these privacy concerns. Here's hoping it's enough.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
Apple’s Airtags raised a bit of a fuss when they launched earlier in 2021. Every review we saw said two things about the Airtags. One, they work great. Two, they might work too great. The problem? They seemed too easy to use to track non-consenting humans without their knowledge. Which is pretty creepy.
Fortunately, Apple listened to their users and made some quick changes to mitigate these concerns. They shorten the time it takes for an Airtag to play a sound after it is separated from its owner from three days to between 8 - 24 hours. This is great to help alert someone who might have had an Airtag slipped in a bag or car to use to stalk them. Apple also said they would release an Android app so Apple users weren’t the only ones who would get notifications if an Airtag was nearby. This is OK, although it still puts the onus on non-Apple users to download and install that app. Still, we’re glad to see Apple took people’s privacy concerns seriously and is working to make things better.
Overall, Apple does a pretty good job with privacy and security as a company. They say they don't share or sell your data and Apple takes special care to make sure your Siri requests, like asking Siri to find your wallet, aren't associated with you, which is great. Apple did face backlash in 2019 when it came to light their contractors were regularly listening in on confidential personal conversations when they were reviewing the voice assistant's recordings. Apple changed their policy so users weren't automatically opted-in to human voice review.
Apple did recently suffer a bad security vulnerability that resulted in spyware that could allow bad actors to record calls and messages and even turn an iPhone or iPad camera and microphone on without the user knowing. Apple did patch the security vulnerability. This is a good reminder that even the best companies can be vulnerable to high level hacking.
What’s the worst that could happen with Apple’s Airtags? While we’re happy to see Apple take steps to prevent them from being used to stalk or spy on people without their consent, that’s still a concern. There are sites on the internet that tell people how to disable the speaker in the Airtag so it can’t alert someone it’s been hidden in their car or purse. A bad person using an Airtag to stalk someone without them knowing is pretty dang creepy. But, that could also happen with any of the Bluetooth trackers on the market. It’s just that Apple’s Find My network is huge, with millions of users, making Airtags potentially the scariest, and the best, tracker on the market.
Tips to protect yourself
- Check Apple's Airtag guidance to ensure your privacy.
What can be used to sign up?
iPhone or iPad is needed
What data does the company collect?
Email address, age, name, email address, physical address, phone number, or other contact information are needed to set up the Apple account. Location is collected from the device itself
How does the company use this data?
How can you control your data?
What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?
Apple had a recent serious security vulnerability. From Firewall Times: "In September 2021, researchers discovered that a spyware called Pegasus had infected iPhones and other Apple Devices via a ‘zero click exploit’, granting the spyware broad power over a users’ device. Once infected, the spyware could record calls and messages and even turn the device camera and microphone on without the user knowing. Pegasus was produced by the NSO Group, an Israel-based company that sells its spyware to governments such as Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Though this spyware would presumably be used to surveil terrorists and criminal enterprises, these governments have also used it to spy on activists, politicians, and journalists. As of September 13, 2021, Apple has patched the exploit."
Can this product be used offline?
Bluetooth connection is still required to use the device.
User-friendly privacy information?
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
Apple has a bug bounty program, which means that anyone who finds a security issue and discloses it responsibly may get paid. https://developer.apple.com/security-bounty/
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