After a number of stories in recent weeks have highlighted how Apple’s AirTags are being used for stalking purposes, the company has today updated its existing “Personal Safety User Guide” with new information on what consumers should do in the event they find an unknown AirTag in their presence or hear one make a sound. The guide specifically explains what the AirTag’s alerts mean, and what to do if they find an AirTag or other Find My network accessory following them. It even contains instructions for Android users, too.
The addition to the guide was first spotted by the sites 9to5Mac and AppleInsider. Apple confirmed to TechCrunch the guide was updated today with the AirTag-related information.
However, the guide itself isn’t new. The same manual had previously offered information designed to help people who were worried their personal safety was at risk or who were concerned about other ways they could be stalked or tracked via Apple devices. In general, it focused on helping people who had previously shared information with a partner, and who now wanted to ensure that person no longer could access their account, their data or their location, among other things.
In the case of AirTag, though, it’s not always a partner abuse situation leading to the stalking. A report by The New York Times, for example, highlighted how car thieves were using AirTag devices to track and locate high-end vehicles they planned to steal. Others said they were getting alerts about being tracked by an AirTag after they left a public place, like their local gym. Some parents were also using the devices to track their teenage children without informing them, the story noted.
As Apple is the first major tech company in the lost-item tracker space to have implemented proactive alerts about unknown Bluetooth trackers nearby, it’s brought the stalking situation to light. As The NYT noted, some researchers believe Apple’s AirTag didn’t necessarily create the tech-enabled stalking problem itself. Instead, it’s possible that the AirTag’s built-in alerts system has actually revealed what was already a widespread problem. Unfortunately for Apple, this situation has become a PR liability given how heavily the company has marketed itself as being focused on user safety and privacy.
While various Apple spokespersons have provided statements to reporters covering AirTag stalking cases, the new guide now serves as a more official form of documentation on the matter.
It explains to users what it means when they receive an alert, why they might hear an AirTag make a sound and how to use the new Tracker Detect app for Android. Most importantly, it points to the Apple support documentation about what to do if you find an unknown AirTag following you, and how to make it play a sound if you can’t otherwise find it.
With the documentation update, the guide has now been published as a searchable website instead of just a PDF. This allows Google and other search engines to better index its contents in order to point web users to the right page based on their search query. It may also be easier to keep the guide updated as new personal safety documentation and guidance becomes available.
Beyond the AirTag information, the refreshed guide also now includes information on newer Apple features that weren’t available when it was first published — like Apple’s App Privacy Report or information on how to set up recovery contacts. Other new sections cover Home Kit and the Home App, private browsing mode, how to block people through messages, phone, FaceTime and email, how to take a screenshot to document suspicious activity, and how to set up account recovery contacts.
Combined with the existing information on managing account security and privacy, the new guide makes for a more comprehensive document than the earlier version.
However, the issue with AirTag, specifically, was not really about the lack of documentation or consumer confusion over what to do, but the fact that AirTags themselves are simply too easy to use for stalking purposes. In addition to being affordable devices, their ring isn’t loud enough to notice, at times — especially if the AirTag has been placed somewhere like on the underside of a car or behind a license plate. And the alerts about unknown AirTags are too infrequent, privacy advocates have argued.
Apple has yet to address these and other complaints by changing AirTag’s functionality, but the guide’s publication indicates the company is at least well aware of the problem and looking to provide some sort of resource to consumers.