Thursday, March 4, 2021

Apple’s new Find My feature could let you know if you’re the one being tracked

Apple’s Find My app might get a new safety feature to help prevent someone from using the kinds of devices tracked in the app to stalk you instead. “Item Safety Alerts”, spotted in the iOS 14.5 beta, will notify you if an unknown device being tracked on Find My is “moving with you” so you can remove it or disable it, 9to5Mac reports.

The feature seems designed to counteract a scenario where a Find My-compatible device is hidden in a pocket or bag and then used to track someone’s movements. The Item Safety Alerts setting was found in early versions of iOS 14.3, according to AppleInsider, but was removed until its reappearance in iOS 14.5. The setting is enabled by default in the beta and Apple seems to want it to stay on. If you turn off the setting off, the system will warn you that unknown devices can see your location without you being notified, Apple blogger Benjamin Mayo shared on Twitter.

Addressing the risk of stalking in Find My is newly important because of Apple’s plans to open up the app to third-party accessories. Hiding an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook in someone’s bag to track them is difficult, but a small keychain-sized device like Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag or Tile’s upcoming ultra wideband (UWB) tracker could be a lot easier. Apple’s rumored AirTags could also be a candidate for misuse, and reintroducing this feature into iOS might mean they’re on their way to release.

While it’s not necessarily as powerful as a GPS beacon with a cellular radio, Apple’s Find My network may have more reach than you’d think. If an Apple device comes near one of these supported trackers, it can update its location, even if the tracker doesn’t have its own connection to the internet. Tile’s “Community Find” feature works similarly. AirTags could theoretically expand the reach and precision even more, with an added UWB signal in the tag that can make items easier to find behind walls and in other rooms.

There are at least a few examples where gadgets like this have been abused: In 2018, a woman in Texas noticed her ex-partner kept showing up at restaurants, other people’s houses, and even an out-of-town trip, without a clear way of knowing where she was, ABC 13 reported. She’d later learn her ex had stashed a Tile tracker in the front console of her car, and was using it to find her. A Texas beauty queen shared a similar stalking story in 2016.

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