Apple AirTag

Apple AirTag

Apple
Bluetooth

Review date: Nov. 1, 2023

|
|

Mozilla says

|
People voted: Somewhat creepy

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 early in 2021. Every review we saw said two things about the AirTags and the Find My app they use on iOS devices. 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, like shortening 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 to help alert someone who might have had an Airtag slipped in their bag or car as a way to stalk them. Unfortunately, those changes still weren’t enough, so in February 2022, Apple announced even more updates to AirTags, the Find My app, and to how Apple interacts with law enforcement to help with unwanted tracking. But all that still didn't keep AirTags from popping up in very sad news stories -- involving intimate partner homicide, vigilante justice -- and from being the subject of class action lawsuit. Still, Apple is actively trying to make AirTags safer. In May 2023, they announced that they’re teaming up with Google to draft new Bluetooth tracker safety standards that would allow users to more easily detect unwanted trackers across both iOS and Android devices. And though that is a promising step, some privacy advocates say that “the product is the problem.”

As for Apple’s privacy practices, well, Apple does a pretty good job with privacy and security as a company. They have had some serious security issues, including one in 2022 that could allow hackers to take complete control of iPhones, iPads, and Macs. And another bad security vulnerability that resulted in spyware that could allow bad actors to record calls and messages and even turn the device camera and microphone on without the user knowing. The good thing with Apple and security is, they seem to take these security breaches seriously, jump and fix them immediately, and communicate pretty well with users on what they need to do to stay safe. So keep those devices updated folks! And take those security warnings seriously when you get them. This is also a good reminder that even the best companies can be vulnerable to high-level security bugs and breaches.

Apple's privacy policy says they can collect things like name, email address, age, location, device information, contact information, and more on you when you use their products and services. The good news is, Apple says they treat all this information as personal information. So, things like device ID and the like are treated as securely as your name and age. That’s good. And Apple says they don’t share or sell your data, which is also good. They do say they can share your data with some third parties such as business partners, service providers, and others as you give your permission. For the most part, this sharing looks pretty normal for the services they provide.

And when it comes to AI voice assistants, Siri is a bit more privacy conscious than others like Amazon’s Alexa. Apple says they take special care to make sure your Siri requests aren't associated with you, and those transcripts aren’t subject to human review--anymore. In 2021, Apple made another positive change for your Siri voice requests--many audio requests for things like setting timers or alarms or controlling music are no longer sent over the internet to their servers, instead they are processed directly on your device. This is better for your privacy.

So on the privacy front, yes, Apple is generally better than other Big Tech companies (cough, Meta, cough cough, Amazon, cough Samsung), when it comes to privacy. They aren’t perfect, of course, but they do seem to do a better job at collecting less data because they aren’t trying to sell as many ads as Google and Facebook (yet, at least).

Apple does say they can target you with some personalized ads on their platforms. Apple delivers ads to you on Apple News or App Store, and gives you the option to opt-out of these personalized ads using your Apple ID, which will opt you out of these ads across all Apple devices. However, keep an eye on how Apple does their ads business. Right now it’s not too worrisome to us, but that could change as they look to grow their ad revenue.

What’s the worst that could happen? Well, Apple isn’t perfect, they could do better. And Apple’s AirTags are a special kind of privacy nightmare when others abuse them. 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 plenty of concern. There are sites on the internet that tell people how to modify or 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 : https://support.apple.com/HT212227
  • Use your device privacy controls to limit access to your personal information via app (do not give access to your camera, microphone, images and videos)
  • Limit ad tracking via your device (eg on iPhone go to Privacy -> Advertising -> Limit ad tracking) and biggest ad networks (for Google, go to Google account and turn off ad personalization)
  • Use your device privacy controls to limit access to your personal information via app (do not give access to your camera, microphone, images and videos)
  • Limit ad tracking via your device (eg on iPhone go to Privacy -> Advertising -> Limit ad tracking) and biggest ad networks (for Google, go to Google account and turn off ad personalization)
  • mobile

Can it snoop on me? information

Camera

Device: No

App: No

Microphone

Device: No

App: No

Tracks location

Device: Yes

App: Yes

What can be used to sign up?

iPhone or iPad is needed

What data does the company collect?

How does the company use this data?

Apple Privacy Policy

"Apple may receive personal data about you from other individuals, from businesses or third parties acting at your direction, from our partners who work with us to provide our products and services and assist us in security and fraud prevention, and from other lawful sources.

- Individuals. Apple may collect data about you from other individuals — for example, if that individual has sent you a product or gift card, invited you to participate in an Apple service or forum, or shared content with you.
- At Your Direction. You may direct other individuals or third parties to share data with Apple. For example, you may direct your mobile carrier to share data about your carrier account with Apple for account activation, or for your loyalty program to share information about your participation so that you can earn rewards for Apple purchases.
- Apple Partners. We may also validate the information you provide — for example, when creating an Apple ID, with a third party for security, and for fraud-prevention purposes.

For research and development purposes, we may use datasets such as those that contain images, voices, or other data that could be associated with an identifiable person. <...> When using such datasets for research and development, we do not attempt to reidentify individuals who may appear therein."

"Apple does not sell your personal data including as 'sale' is defined in Nevada and California. Apple also does not 'share' your personal data as that term is defined in California."

"Apple may share personal data with Apple-affiliated companies, service providers who act on our behalf, our partners, developers, and publishers, or others at your direction. Apple does not share personal data with third parties for their own marketing purposes."

"Apple uses personal data to power our services, to process your transactions, to communicate with you, for security and fraud prevention, and to comply with law. We may also use personal data for other purposes with your consent."

"Ad Targeting Information. To see information about you that may be used to deliver targeted ads by Apple’s advertising platform, including the segments that you are in."

How can you control your data?

Apple Privacy Policy

"At Apple, we respect your ability to know, access, correct, transfer, restrict the processing of, and delete your personal data. We have provided these rights to our global customer base..."

"There may be situations where we cannot grant your request — for example, if you ask us to delete your transaction data and Apple is legally obligated to keep a record of that transaction to comply with law. We may also decline to grant a request where doing so would undermine our legitimate use of data for anti-fraud and security purposes, such as when you request deletion of an account that is being investigated for security concerns. Other reasons your privacy request may be denied are if it jeopardizes the privacy of others, is frivolous or vexatious, or would be extremely impractical."

"Apple retains personal data only for so long as necessary to fulfill the purposes for which it was collected, including as described in this Privacy Policy or in our service-specific privacy notices, or as required by law. We will retain your personal data for the period necessary to fulfill the purposes outlined in this Privacy Policy and our service-specific privacy summaries. When assessing retention periods, we first carefully examine whether it is necessary to retain the personal data collected and, if retention is required, work to retain the personal data for the shortest possible period permissible under law."

What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?

Needs Improvement

In July 2023, Apple and Amazon were fined by Spain antitrust watchdog.

In January 2023, Apple was fined €8M in French privacy case.

In 2022, Apple identified and patched serious security vulnerabiiliites, one that could allow hackers take full control of iOS devices.

In 2022, Apple allegedly gave user data to hackers who faked being law enforcement and forged requests for information.

In 2021, Apple had a recent serious spyware security vulnerability called Pegaus that infected iPhones and other Apple devices.

In 2021, a major data leak was reported of 61 million fitness tracker data records, including Apple's Healthkit data, by the third party company GetHealth. In September 2021, a group of security researchers discovered GetHealth had an unsecured database containing over 61 million records related to wearable technology and fitness services. GetHealth accessed health data belonging to wearable device users around the world and leaked it in an non-password protected, unencrypted database. The list contained names, birthdates, weight, height, gender, and geographical location, as well as other medical data, such as blood pressure.

Child Privacy Information

Apple Privacy Policy

"Apple understands the importance of safeguarding the personal data of children, which we consider to be an individual under the age of 13 or the equivalent age as specified by law in your jurisdiction. That is why Apple has implemented additional processes and protections to help keep children's personal data safe.

To access certain Apple services, a child must have a child Apple ID. A child Apple ID may be created by the parent or, in the case of a Managed Apple ID, by the child's educational institution."

Can this product be used offline?

Yes

User-friendly privacy information?

Yes

Links to privacy information

Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards? information

Yes

Encryption

Yes

Uses encryption in transit and at rest.

Strong password

Yes

Security updates

Yes

Manages vulnerabilities

Yes

Apple has a bug bounty program.

Privacy policy

Yes

Does the product use AI? information

Yes

Some of Apple's AI research can be found at https://machinelearning.apple.com/.

Is this AI untrustworthy?

Can’t Determine

What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?

Apple states in its privacy policy, "Apple does not use algorithms or profiling to make any decision that would significantly affect you without the opportunity for human review." Apple employs machine learning in many different ways, from using it to to improve Siri to using it to sharpen the photos that you take.

Is the company transparent about how the AI works?

Yes

Does the user have control over the AI features?

Yes

*privacy not included

Dive Deeper

  • Amazon and Apple fined $218 million by Spain antitrust watchdog
    CNN Business Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple fined €8M in French privacy case
    Politico Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple says it prioritizes privacy. Experts say gaps remain
    The Guardian Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple’s Privacy Mythology Doesn’t Match Reality
    Wired Link opens in a new tab
  • An update on AirTag and unwanted tracking
    Apple Link opens in a new tab
  • New York Attorney General Issues AirTag Consumer Alert Over Stalking Concerns
    MacRumors Link opens in a new tab
  • I found my stolen Honda Civic using a Bluetooth tracker. It’s the latest controversial weapon against theft.
    The Washington Post Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple unveils AirTag safety guide amid stalker fears
    BBC News Link opens in a new tab
  • AirTags are being used to track people and cars. Here's what is being done about it
    NPR Link opens in a new tab
  • AirTags Are Linked to Stalking, and Apple Can't Solve This Problem Alone
    C Net Link opens in a new tab
  • Some are using Apple Air Tags to track strangers. Here’s what security experts want you to know about the devices.
    Boston.com Link opens in a new tab
  • The Best Bluetooth Tracker
    New York Times Link opens in a new tab
  • Modified AirTags pose major privacy concerns, especially for Android users
    ZDNET Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple updates AirTags to address stalking concerns
    Engadget Link opens in a new tab
  • Stop Pretending Apple and Amazon's Bluetooth Networks Can't Be Abused
    Gizmodo Link opens in a new tab
  • Someone can track you with a Tile or AirTag – Red flags you’re being followed
    Komando.com Link opens in a new tab
  • Remember, Apple AirTags and ‘Find My’ app only work because of a vast, largely covert tracking network
    The Conversation Link opens in a new tab
  • AirTag review: They work great—maybe a little too great
    Ars Technica Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple to update AirTags with new privacy warnings, better warning sounds, smarter Find My tracking
    CNET Link opens in a new tab
  • AirTag anti-stalking measures tested — and they're not good enough
    Tom's Guide Link opens in a new tab
  • I tracked my kid with Apple's Airtags to test its privacy features
    CNN Link opens in a new tab
  • AirTag vs Tile: What's the Difference?
    Gear Patrol Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple Data Breaches: Full Timeline Through 2021
    Firewall Times Link opens in a new tab
  • New Tile Devices Prove That AirTags Have Room For Improvement
    Forbes Link opens in a new tab

Comments

Got a comment? Let us hear it.