Test Apple AirTag: See your whereabouts at a glance, only to be discovered on the 3rd day

Amazon opened its anti-lost network Sidewalk on May 7, local time, which will provide support for devices such as Tile anti-lost devices, Level smart locks, and the elderly care smart watch CareBand. Allegedly, this is the largest expansion of Sidewalk since its release last year.

Coincidentally, last month, Apple also announced that it would officially open its Find My anti-lost network to third-party companies, making it no longer limited to retrieving Apple devices, and officially released the Apple anti-lost device AirTag on April 21, Beijing time. . AirTag can be attached to other items and rely on Find My network to provide its location information.

Although Sidewalk and Find My networks make it easier to retrieve items, people are more concerned that the tracking function of the anti-lost network may be maliciously abused. According to a foreign media reporter’s actual measurement, Apple’s AirTag can accurately locate AirTag carriers at a distance far beyond the Bluetooth range of the mobile phone, and iPhones with iOS versions below 14.5 will not even receive tracking reminders.

A large number of smart devices form an anti-lost network to help track

Sidewalk is a secondary network composed of Amazon’s Echo smart speakers and Ring smart camera devices. It works by adding a small part of the bandwidth information of the user’s device to other nearby Echo smart speakers and Ring smart camera devices, and Use this to track their location.

Similarly, Apple’s Find My network is a crowdsourced network of hundreds of millions of Apple devices that use Bluetooth wireless technology to detect missing devices or items nearby and report their approximate location to the owner. If users turn on Apple’s Find My feature, their Apple device will act as a Bluetooth beacon to help locate other Apple devices.

Since the number of devices included in the Find My network is very large, AirTag’s lost property finding capabilities are also quite powerful.

Therefore, Amazon added Tile anti-lost device, Level smart lock and CareBand watch to Sidewalk to expand the tracking function of Sidewalk. Amazon will start to provide support for the anti-lost device Tile on June 14th local time, which will expand the scope of Tile’s lost property search.

In addition, for the Level smart lock, another partner of this cooperation, joining Sidewalk allows smart home devices to be interconnected without the user’s mobile phone operation. The addition of CareBand means that users can track the whereabouts of elderly people with dementia without WiFi.

AirTag can be located across regions without being tracked

If these functions are used properly, they will undoubtedly bring convenience to the user’s life. However, once someone maliciously uses these functions, the consequences will be disastrous.

Both Apple and Amazon claim to value privacy and security issues. Apple has added some features to AirTag’s functional settings to prevent unnecessary tracking. Amazon also released the “Amazon Sidewalk Privacy and Security White Paper”, saying that it will prevent security risks through authentication, end-to-end encryption and other measures.

However, the fact that the company encrypts user data does not mean that the huge system of anti-lost network is foolproof.

In an article published by foreign media Mashable on April 30, local time, reporter Brenda Stolyar tested the tracking function of AirTag.

According to Brenda’s description, turn on the iPhone’s Bluetooth, bring the AirTag close to the phone, and add the device. In just three simple steps, you can associate the AirTag with your iPhone, and then you can view the AirTag in the Find My app of the phone. And the location of the attached items.

When Brenda tested the “protective measures” of AirTag, he found that if an unknown AirTag is placed on the user’s body, they will receive a security warning on their iPhone: “The owner of AirTag can see your current Location” and provide detailed information about the AirTag. The user can also manually disconnect.

However, this security warning will only appear “after a while” and will only be received by users who have updated their phones to iOS 14.5. In the actual test, the tested mobile phone issued a security warning after being tracked for about two hours.

▲ Unknown AirTag security warning for iPhone

Apple will also send a security warning when the tracked user returns home based on the user’s home address previously stored. If the user does not go home, it will send a warning at the end of the day.

Brenda said that if the user is using an Android phone or an iPhone with iOS version below 14.5, the security warning will not appear. After three days, the “excess” AirTag will sound to remind the tracked user.

Next, Brenda used two AirTags to track the whereabouts of her two roommates.

For two days, her roommate carried AirTags in Harlem and Greenwich Village, while Brenda, who was traveling between Manhattan and Brooklyn, could use Find My on her phone at any time. The app sees the specific location of the two roommates. This distance is far beyond the Bluetooth range of Brenda’s mobile phone.

Foreign media test Apple AirTag: the whereabouts of the two roommates at a glance, only to be discovered on the 3rd day

▲ The mobile phone associated with AirTag can display the whereabouts of the two subjects

In order to further test how far AirTag can track, Brenda put an AirTag in the drawer of the cabinet, and then put the cabinet on a moving truck traveling around the United States. A day later, the truck can still be seen parked in Newark, New Jersey on the phone.

Foreign media test Apple AirTag: the whereabouts of the two roommates at a glance, only to be discovered on the 3rd day

▲ The location of the tracked truck

19.3 million women in the United States have been tracked, and security risks cannot be ignored

Without the user’s knowledge, the accuracy of this tracking is frightening.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), a non-profit organization that aims to end violence against women, said that AirTag could be abused as a surveillance tool.

It is true that anti-lost devices such as GPS child trackers and Tile anti-lost devices are not uncommon, but now, Apple’s Find My and Amazon’s Sidewalk may make these devices more convenient to use, cheaper, and easier to obtain, and they The positioning will be more accurate, and it will work without wifi or GPS.

Apple announced this year that as of January 2021, there are 1.65 billion Apple devices in active use worldwide. According to data from the global comprehensive database Statista, there are 46.5 million Amazon Echo smart speaker devices in the United States.

The anti-lost networks Find My and Sidewalk both contain a lot of devices, but such a large scale also means that even if users choose not to use them, users can be treated with a small, compact, Easy to hide Bluetooth device tracking. It does not need to be connected to the Internet, cellular network, or GPS satellites to report the user’s location.

The sad thing is that incidents of abuse and stalking occur from time to time. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in seven men experience physical violence by their partners. In the United States, one in six women and one in seventeen men are tracked.

We cannot avoid that some abusers may use the accuracy and convenience of Find My and Amazon Sidewalk for their own benefit. They will repeatedly test the protection measures of Apple and Amazon, because users cannot withdraw from these huge anti-lost The tracking range of the network.

Conclusion: Tracking technology is a double-edged sword, anti-tracking and anti-lost can not have both

In recent years, the emergence and development of tracking technology has facilitated people’s lives, allowing people to locate lost devices and objects, and there are more and more large-scale anti-lost networks such as Apple Find My and Amazon Sidewalk.

From the perspective of retrieving lost items, most people hope that the anti-lost network can provide more accurate and broader positioning services; from the perspective of privacy and security, the more advanced the tracking technology, the more people will actually be available. The hidden worries of security issues. This requires the provider of the tracking function to be fully aware of this contradiction, and to implement more stringent security measures in rulemaking and technology.

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