Oh look, my AirTag sense is tingling. Laugh if you may, but that might actually be a thing in a future version of iOS, and we would all be safer for it.
The folks over at MacRumors spotted Apple’s version of the Spidey sense in the iOS 15.2 beta released on Tuesday. This new scanning feature comes as an addition to the Find My app and allows users to uncover AirTags and other products connected to Apple’s powerful Find My network that might be stalking them in real-time without their knowledge.
At first glance, the new feature looks very easy to use. According to screenshots posted by MacRumors, you start by opening up to the Find My app and choosing the “Items” tab on the bottom menu. That’ll bring up a list of all your AirTags and third-party Find My-connected devices. At the bottom of the list, you have an option titled “Items That Can Track Me.”
Clicking on this option bring up “Unknown Items,” which scans for any Find My-connected device that belongs to someone else nearby. MacRumors reports that if Apple finds any unwanted Find My devices that are engaging in stalking, it gives the user instructions to disable the device and prevent it from tracking any longer.
Back when Apple released the AirTags in April, we noted that one of the biggest and scariest problems with them was the possibility that they could be exploited by abusers. AirTags present a way for abusers to track their victims in a highly accurate way—the Find My network is connected to hundreds of millions of Apple devices worldwide—and a cheap way (one AirTag costs $29, four cost $99).
The company anticipated that this could be an issue, and at launch said that iPhone users who had unwanted AirTags placed on or near their belongings would receive an alert on their phones. If the AirTag stayed with unsuspecting users for more than three days, the AirTag would emit a chime. However, at the time, some iPhone users without the latest version of iOS weren’t being notified that they had an AirTag on them.
Meanwhile, Android users didn’t even get notifications. They were stuck with the evil AirTag until three days had passed and they heard a chime. This meant that if someone tracked you with an AirTag throughout the day but the device got close to its owner again at night, you would never know. Creepy.
Apple tried to address the stalking concerns around AirTags in a June update. It scrapped the three-day time frame and said AirTags would emit a sound at some point after being away from their owners for between eight and 24 hours. The company also announced that it was working on an app for Android users that would send them alerts about unwanted tracking devices similar to those iPhone users receive. The Android app is set to launch later this year.
The new “Unknown Items” feature isn’t perfect. It puts the onus of scanning for unknown devices on the user, even though Apple is the entity that is primarily responsible for letting users know they’re being stalked without their knowledge. However, it would be a step in a right direction.
Let’s hope this feature makes it out of beta and into the next iOS update, and, of course, that Android users are provided with similar safeguards soon.