As useful as Apple AirTags can be, they’ve also been exploited for nefarious purposes — helping stalkers track and keep tabs on unwitting victims. While Apple has been widely criticised for not anticipating this, there have been several updates designed to minimize the risk from stalkers — and the latest could prove to be a very big help.
Apple has released two separate AirTag firmware updates since November, but didn’t explain what changes were being implemented at the time. Now a new support document has all the details, including a long-promised feature that will help iPhone owners find any rogue AirTags in the immediate area.
AirTags have long had a “Precision Finding” feature, which utilizes Ultra-wideband to locate the tag with pinpoint accuracy. With it your iPhone can guide you to the tracker via augmented reality, with on-screen arrows pointing you in the right direction. It’s significantly better than the Bluetooth-only system employed in some cheap tracking fobs.
Previously, this feature was only available to your own registered AirTags. Now, with the new firmware updates, Apple has unlocked this feature for unknown AirTags that have been traveling with you. The update also notifies awake iPhones that an unknown AirTag is nearby, separated from its owner and emitting a sound to indicate it has moved. Just in case you can't hear it.
While this doesn’t stop AirTags being used as stalking tools, Apple's update does make it much easier to notice and track them down. Apple says that Precision Finding will be of particular help if the AirTag sound is hard to hear, or if the speaker has been tampered with.
Of course, this feature is only available for people with UWB-capable iPhones. So anyone with a device older than the iPhone 11, or running Android, won’t be able to take advantage of that.
All Android users have got from Apple is the basic Tracker Detect app that relies on manually scanning for rogue AirTags at various intervals. Third-party apps like AirGuard offer an automatic safeguard. But it's clear iPhone owners are being prioritized by Apple.
I think that should be next on the agenda. Give Android users the opportunity to use AirTags for themselves. Even if they only get basic Bluetooth tracking capabilities, rather than the fancy UWB features.
What to do if you find an unknown AirTag
AirTags that have been separated from their paired iPhone or iPad for more than 24 hours will start beeping. It doesn’t matter whether it’s been lost, or someone has placed it there maliciously. It’s not terribly loud, and a lot can happen in 24 hours, but it does mean there are some measures in place to try and keep you (and your location) safe.
If you ever find an unknown AirTag, the first thing you should do is take out the battery.You do this by pushing down on the center of the back panel and spinning counter clockwise. The battery is an ordinary CR2032 coin battery and will pop straight out. This will shut down the AirTag until the battery is replaced.
The inside of the AirTag also displays the serial number, which you should make a record of and report to the police. Don’t destroy or dispose of the AirTag, and hand it over to the police if they ask for it. Apple will then be able to use the serial number to track down the AirTag’s owner, and the cops can do whatever it is they need to do in these situations.