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iOS 14.5 has a great new privacy feature for a device Apple hasn’t announced

Updated Mar 5th, 2021 9:27PM EST
iOS 14.5 Privacy Features
Image: Apple Inc.

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Apple rolled out iOS 14.5 beta 3 earlier this week. iOS 14 updates don’t only deliver performance improvements and bug fixes; they also include brand new features.

iOS 14.5 will allow users to unlock an iPhone with the Apple Watch while wearing a mask, add Apple Maps incident reports, bring AirPlay 2 support to Apple Fitness+, and introduce new emoji. But iOS 14.5 beta 3 also includes a brand new security feature that might have been developed for a product that doesn’t officially exist.

We’ve been hearing rumors that Apple would debut its Tile-like trackers for a year now. Called AirTags, these devices can be attached to important objects, like wallets and keys. You can then track those gadgets with the Find My app available on iPhone, iPad, or Mac. These trackers would operate on the same ultra-wideband (UWB) technology that’s also built into iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 devices. UWB allows all of Apple’s devices to talk to each other, so AirTags don’t need GPS. As long as the AirTags are within range of a different Apple device, they can be located on a map. That’s the theory, at least, since Apple hasn’t actually announced them.

Apple is widely expected to launch brand new products this spring, including AirTags. The updated Find My app in iOS 14.5 beta 3 points to that, as it now lists an Items tab that would probably include AirTagged items.

This is where the brand new security feature comes into play. Apple devices will detect everything that uses UWB signals, and they’ll be able to tell if someone places a device on you to keep track of your location, 9to5Mac reports.

Say someone leaves an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook tied to their Apple ID account in your vicinity. They’ll know immediately where you are by tracking those devices. In practice, a stalker probably wouldn’t use these devices to follow someone. They’re big, difficult to hide, and they run out of battery rather quickly.

However, the tiny AirTags could easily be placed in a bag or car without the victim noticing anything. And AirTags will presumably have long battery life. In such an instance, iOS will warn users that a tracker not associated with them might be following them by displaying the Item Safety Alert seen in the image above.

There may be cases where such behavior is warranted. People might want to use AirTags to track their parents, children, or pets, and the trackers might sometimes be around other iPhone users for long periods of time, potentially triggering the warning. But the purpose of the feature is to prevent stalkers from following others with the help of Apple’s technology. Such things have happened in the past, The Verge points out. A woman’s ex placed a Tile tracker in her car’s front console in 2018, which allowed him to follow her around.

Per Apple Insider, the Item Safety Alerts feature went live in iOS 14.3, but Apple later removed it. Its reemergence might indicate that Apple is indeed close to launching its AirTags.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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