Apple has made quite of bit of progress in its efforts to improve the anti-stalking and privacy features of its AirTag item trackers. This is despite the fact that AirTag launched with a set of anti-tracking features more sophisticated that similar products on the market.
A new report from the Wall Street Journal dives into a phenomenon it refers to as “phantom AirTag alerts” that “send iPhone users on wild goose chases.”
AirTag ‘phantom’ privacy alerts
By default, iOS will send an alert when an unknown AirTag is detected near you. This alerts you to the possibility that someone is tracking your location and allows you to (attempt to) locate the AirTag and get law enforcement involved if necessary.
Today’s report, however, explains that “in recent weeks, some iPhone users have begun receiving alerts, often in the middle of the night, for AirTags that might not be in their path at all.” In these situation, the affected user receives an alert from the Find My app sayin “AirTag detected near you” with a map of the item tracker’s supposed location and path.
According to the report:
The maps on phantom AirTag alerts share a similar pattern: straight red lines radiating out from the user’s location. If an AirTag were in motion (perhaps flying?) along these paths, it would be crossing in the middle of city streets, passing through construction zones, even penetrating walls.
It’s unclear how widespread this issue is, and whether or not it’s something that started recently or has been an issue since AirTag debuted.
An Apple spokesperson did confirm that the company is aware of the problem:
An Apple spokesman said that such alerts could have resulted from an iPhone receiving area Wi-Fi signals that temporarily confused its location services. A potential fix would be to go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services, and toggle the switch off and on while Wi-Fi is enabled on the iPhone. He also said that in more densely populated areas, AirTags owned by others nearby could inadvertently trigger unwanted alerts.
Again, Apple has done quite a bit to tackle stalking and safety concerns with AirTag. With that being said, however, the Find My network appears to be one of the most buggy and unreliable aspects of the AirTag experience. We’ve heard numerous reports of erroneous tracking alerts and stories similar to today’s Wall Street Journal report, and all of these issues seem to be caused by the Find My network.
Apple has promised additional enhancements for AirTag and Find My over the rest of the year. As of right now, there is not an exact timetable for when these changes will actually roll out. One of the promised changes, however, is “improved tracking alert logic” for these types of Find My alerts.
The full report from the Wall Street Journal is worth a read and can be found here.
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