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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Apple releases AirTag with focus on privacy

Apple AirTag
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Apple has launched a new product at their “Spring Loaded” event called AirTag, which has long been rumored to be in development but has now been added to their product portfolio. Apple AirTag is a simple device that you can attach to items that you might lose, for example, a set of keys.

The AirTag will allow you to find the item if you forget where you left it by using the Find My app on your iPhone, the same way that you can view the location of family and friends or other Apple devices. Then, to locate the item, you can signal the app to play a sound so that you can home in on its location.

Although similar products such as Tile exist, Apple is differentiating their product with one huge advantage: Privacy. With every new immerging technology comes the risk of privacy and security issues, but fortunately, Apple has thought ahead and worked out ways to mitigate against them.

Let’s take a look.

AirTag privacy and security concerns

1. What if someone uses AirTag to track a person covertly?

Apple foresaw that some people would try to use AirTag to track a person’s movements secretly. It would be easy to imagine a world where AirTags are slipped into handbags or coat pockets or attached to vehicles as a simple way to track someone. Apple’s solution to this problem is to alert you if an unknown AirTag is operating nearby, “AirTag is designed to discourage unwanted tracking. If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send you an alert. After a while, if you still haven’t found it, the AirTag will start playing a sound to let you know it’s there.”

I wonder how long it will be before a threat actor works out how to disable the AirTag’s speaker to bypass this security feature? After all, other than the audible alert, you would need to be using an iPhone to be alerted to its presence.

2. Is AirTag traffic sent via other iPhones secure?

Apple also foresaw that sending AirTag location information over crowd-sourced networks could present a security concern. AirTag uses end-to-end encryption so that the owner of the AirTag can only read the data sent. Not even Apple itself can access the AirTag’s location data.

Bluetooth identifiers are also randomized and rotated many times a day and never reused, making re-identification impossible.

3. Can AirTags be stolen and used by someone else?

It would be easy to see that AirTags could become a target of theft and re-purposed or sold on trading websites, but Apple has prevented this scenario using “Pairing Lock.” An AirTag is physically paired to an owner’s iCloud account and cannot be hijacked or reset without the owners’ permission.

Apple's shift to ensuring customer privacy

The introduction of Apple AirTag’s and their well-thought-out privacy and security methods highlights Apple’s shift into protecting the privacy of its customers. This shift provides a unique point of difference when individuals are becoming more concerned about privacy more than ever.

The focus on privacy will no doubt boost Apple’s market share as it resonates with most people. It also means that Apple can be upfront and maintain a clear conscience that it does not involve itself in the shady practice of onselling private customer data.

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