As part of the massive release of new software at WWDC, Apple merged its Find My Friends and Find My iPhone services into a single Find My app and service. Interestingly, the system lets you track people and devices when they aren’t connected to the Internet. And, somehow, Apple says it has managed to do this without compromising personal privacy and making the old services more secure. Here’s how it works.
What is ‘Find My’?
Find My is a service that lets to keep track of people who share their locations with you and to track the location of devices.
It broadcasts the location of devices or people using Apple’s iCloud as a hub. Until now, that relied on the people or devices having an internet connection.
Find My is a new service that replaces two deprecated apps; Find My Friends and Find My iPhone (which also covered iPads and Macs)
How does Find My work?
The new version of Find My turns every Apple device into a Bluetooth beacon. Interestingly, there are references in the iOS developer notes to a new Bluetooth beacon device suggesting Apple might be releasing other beacon devices for tracking non-Apple items. For example, you could have a small beacon in your luggage or in a smart coffee cup so no one steals it from the office.
Find My now relies on having two Apple devices. They securely exchange information, with full end-to-end encryption, that allows one device to report the location of another even when it’s not connected to a wireless or cellular network.
There’s a great explanation of this at Wired. In that report, Apple told Wired that the devices involved “emits a constantly changing key that nearby Apple devices use to encrypt and upload your geolocation data, such that only the other Apple device you own possesses the key to decrypt those locations”.
There’s a lot in that statement. The “constantly changing key” means that even if someone intercepted the data and somehow cracked the encryption, it would be useless a short time later. It’s also important to note that even though Apple is providing the service, they don’t have access to the encryption keys.
What you need for Find My to work?
Chances are, for the Apple faithful that this won’t be an issue but Find My will rely on having two Apple devices with at least one connected to the internet.
It’s also worth noting the technology won’t be available until macOS Catalina and iOS 13 are released later this year. And, according to an expert the technology is well known in a scientific sense but has never been deployed en masse. So, the effectiveness of the system is still to be proven.
Apple’s track record with cloud services is sketchy. iCloud storage is still way behind the likes of OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive and Box.net. And uptake of its productivity cloud apps remains very low. But the predecessors of Find My worked well and Apple’s record in pushing encryption-based services has been very solid.
Find My will be one of those services that many people will only need occasionally. But when they need it, it will need to be reliable and secure. And it will need to give people confidence that bad actors can’t use the system to track us.