Apple to update AirTags warning systems to avoid 'malicious or criminal' use

Apple is updating its controversial AirTags after increasing concerns about their being used to track people without their knowledge.

The coin-sized trackers were first released last year and changes were quickly made to try and ensure notifications from its alert system were more timely.

However there are still regular reports of the devices being used to stalk people and even Canadian car thieves using them to mark high-value vehicles they can later steal.

Recently it's been reported that AirTags have been sold in online auctions which have the speaker disabled, preventing any warning noise being generated.

"Unwanted tracking has long been a societal problem, and we took this concern seriously in the design of AirTag," Apple said in a statement.

"We've become aware that individuals can receive unwanted tracking alerts for benign reasons, such as when borrowing someone's keys.

"We also have seen reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes."

The tech giant revealed it had been "working closely" with safety groups and law enforcement agencies to identify ways to improve warnings.

"Through our own evaluations and these discussions, we have identified even more ways we can update AirTag safety warnings and help guard against further unwanted tracking," it said.

AirTags all have unique serial numbers and are tied to an individual's Apple ID so the company already provides details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement, it said.

"We have successfully partnered with them on cases where information we provided has been used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was then apprehended and charged."

The first changes to be made include an update to the privacy warning when a new AirTag is set up.

"Every user setting up their AirTag for the first time will see a message that... using AirTag to track people without consent is a crime in many regions around the world, that AirTag is designed to be detected by victims, and that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag," Apple said.

Later in the year, further changes will be made to make it easier to identify and find unwanted AirTags. This includes 'Precision Finding' which will show the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag.

"As an iPhone user moves, Precision Finding fuses input from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer and gyroscope to guide them to the AirTag through a combination of sound, haptics and visual feedback."

Altering the sounds and alerts is also on the cards.

The "tone sequence" of the alarm will be adjusted to use more of the loudest tones available, while users will also get a display alert on their phones.

The alert is designed to help in cases where the location might make it hard to hear, like in the rear arch of a car, or the speaker has been tampered with.

Apple also plans to update the alert logic to notify users earlier than an unknown AirTag is travelling with them.

"We're committed to listening to feedback and innovating to make improvements that continue to guard against unwanted tracking," it said.