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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Apple allows users to scan for nearby rogue AirTags

Apple AirTag
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Apple will now be allowing its ‘Find My’ feature to scan and report nearby AirTags that might be rogue tags placed for tracking purposes, according to the latest iOS 15.2 beta released for developers on Monday.

Apple calls the additional tag-scanning capabilities of iOS 15.2 beta a “change in developer behavior” and notes that rogue AirTags will now be given a different color icon than valid AirTags on the iOS Find My iPhone app.

As we reported back in April, the Apple AirTag could be used by a person to stalk someone, especially now that engineers quickly discovered how to disable the internal speaker, preventing any audible alert that the AirTag is nearby.

When the AirTag was initially released, they would chime after 3 days away from its owner. After critics highlighted that the AirTags were quite good at tracking people, Apple changed the setting to start the warning chime between 8 and 24 hours. Still, this doesn’t address the issue of tech-savvy people disabling the internal speaker.

iOS 15.2 brings an option called “items that can track me,” which, as the name describes, can display AirTags that might be lurking nearby. It does require people to actively invoke the scan rather than proactively being alerted that an unknown AirTag might be nearby.

Apple's IOS 15.2 includes "Items That Can Track Me"
Apple's IOS 15.2 includes "Items That Can Track Me"

Of course, the original intention of AirTags was to enable recovery of lost items, so an unknown nearby AirTag might be from someone who has genuinely lost their item. Another feature called “Help Return Lost Items” enables good samaritans the opportunity to reunite lost AirTags with their rightful owners. 

In the future, I foresee a hybrid Pokemon-Go / Geocaching style activity whereby people compete to locate and loot hidden AirTags as a competitive sport.

Apple is also developing an Android app that will allow Android users to identify an unfamiliar AirTag or Find My network-enabled item to prevent AirTags from tracking Android users.

Apple iOS 15.2 is now available as a beta to registered developers and as an over-the-air update for those on the public iOS beta release channel. iOS 15.2 will also bring additional features such as new wallpapers and widgets for Apple Watch, split-screen app support for iPads.

How to Scan for Nearby AirTags

To scan for nearby AirTags:

  1. Open the Find My app on your iPhone or iPad
  2. Tap on the Items button
  3. Tap “Items That Can Track Me
  4. Tap the Search button and wait for the scan to complete
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