Sunday, June 26, 2022

AirTags are sending a new kind of false alarm, report says

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Apple’s AirTags have sent out “phantom” warnings that are confusing iPhone users, according to a new ones Wall Street Journal report† The AirTags launched last year feature anti-stalking measures designed to alert users when an unknown AirTag has been detected on their person for an extended period of time. The idea is to prevent AirTags from being used to track people without their consent.

The WSJ reports that these false alerts usually occur in the middle of the night and have started to crop up in recent weeks. When a person receives an unknown AirTag alert, they are supposed to see a corresponding map showing where and how long the AirTag has been detected on their person. However, these false alarms are accompanied by maps with several straight lines radiating from a person’s location. If you’ve ever seen an unfamiliar AirTag warning, it’s highly unusual and seems to indicate a bug in the system.

It is unclear how common this particular false alarm is, although it is not the only type of false alarm a person can experience. While testing the AirTag’s security features, I was repeatedly notified that my own AirTag was stalking me. Several users have reported a similar experience on Reddit and other social media. Similarly, other users have reported seeing confusing alerts being triggered by their AirPods – an issue Apple addressed in a recent update to better distinguish between alerts triggered by different accessories.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

In the WSJ report, users say the warnings put them on edge, especially when they don’t seem to find an AirTag on their person. In one case, a user said they couldn’t force the supposedly unknown AirTag to play a sound and the FindMy app said the AirTag was unreachable. This also happened several times during my testing, even though the AirTag in question was only a few inches away.

Following multiple reports of unwanted stalking earlier this year, Apple said in February that it plans to warn unknown AirTags earlier and emphasize louder tones on audio alerts. Apple is currently rolling out an AirTags update for the latest in a firmware update labeled 1.0.301.

During a recent roadside research, domestic violence experts said too many false alarms can be dangerous, as users can become desensitized to AirTag warnings designed to keep them safe. However, they also stressed that there are design challenges that need to be addressed. While experts agree that the current notification window isn’t enough, trimming it too much can also unnecessarily scare people who aren’t being followed. That’s because AirTags still need to be able to identify whether they’re planted on a person or happen to be near that person. It seems this recent round of ghost warnings is justifying concerns about false alarms.

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