Tune Find My for Travel Tracking to Avoid Annoying AirTag and Apple Device Alerts

Originally published at: Tune Find My for Travel Tracking to Avoid Annoying AirTag and Apple Device Alerts - TidBITS

Apple’s AirTag and other Find My trackers—along with Find My-tracked Apple devices—may be too aggressive about telling you where they are—or aren’t. They can be useful for tracking luggage and other valuables while traveling, particularly with others, but you will likely need to tune your settings to reduce notifications.

My big issue is getting alerts for my own AirTags. This morning, I woke up, and saw an alert that a strange AirTag was following me around. It turns out it’s the one on my keychain.

For instance, my wife rightly distrusts tracking technology but recently asked me for an AirTag that she could pair with her iPhone to place in the car she drives nearly exclusively. She appreciated that the tracking is limited to her iPhone and intended it only to help her find a car in a parking lot or garage.

Apple automatically adds your car’s location to Apple Map when you turn off the car if the phone has been paired to the car’s Bluetooth network. When your phone detects that your car’s Bluetooth network is shutoff (or you walk more than a few feet away from the car), it marks the location.

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We don’t have a Bluetooth connection, so that doesn’t work. Hence the AirTag!

That should never happen from any device that can see the AirTag in its set of Find My items—one that’s part of an iCloud set of linked devices. Curious problem!

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That’s actually good news. You now have a good excuse to buy a new car.

Honey, we have to replace our car. Yeah, I know it works fine, but it’s no longer supported by Apple.

For years, I rented umbrellas. I mean, I’d go to the store to buy one, but a few months later, I would inevitably leave it somewhere. I decided to buy an AirTag to put on my umbrella, and it worked. As you can see from this picture, the AirTag alerted me I left my umbrella somewhere.

Now an eagle eyed reader might say Hey isn’t that your umbrella in your hand? And they’d be right. What happened is that the AirTag fell off.

Apple Maps had the location of the AirTag on it, about 150 yards behind me. I went back there to look, but couldn’t find it. The next day, Apple Maps showed the location about fifty yards further down the street. I found the errant AirTag at the new location. My guess is that someone passed by with an Apple product and communicated to the AirTag its correct location.

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I’m working on that! We have two cars: one an over-featured Subaru that was a gift from my wife’s parents when they stopped driving a few years ago; the other, a Honda Fit we bought due to the right price and being assured by many Fit owners we knew about excellent mileage. We might have gotten a lemon? It doesn’t require extra maintenance, but we see low 20 mph in the city. It’s not our driving style. The much larger and less efficient Subaru gets about the same mileage!

Excellent article, as usual, @glennf. I have an AirTag in my “man purse” that I typically leave (out of sight) in my locked car when I pop into a store on an errand. To avoid the needless “left behind” notices, I could add all the typical shopping places around town as exclusions (and thanks for pointing out this feature; I was unaware), but what I really want is to be able to add my car as an excluded location.

Also, out of curiosity, I did see that I have “notify me if left behind” turned on for my iPhone. But if I do leave it behind somewhere*, how would I get that notification? I have an Apple Watch, but it’s WiFi-only, not cellular. Would I get a notice on my Mac at home?

*Anecdote: You know you live in a relatively safe area when you leave your iPhone 13 Pro Max in the top basket of the shopping cart in the cart return area of the grocery store parking lot, and it is still there after you return from home (where you realized it was missing) to look for it. :slight_smile:

The last paragraph of the article raises some interesting issues:

“I plan to be away from home for as long as a few weeks later this year—and I had better disable or unpair all my AirTags and Apple devices I leave behind, or my family might be happier to see my AirTag-paired iPhone than me when I return home.”

I live on a middle floor of an apartment building. This suggests that neighbors, especially those who live above and below me could get these anti-stalking alerts when I am away from home. However, would leaving an Apple mobile device or computer with Find My enabled prevent alerts from happening? For example, would keeping my desktop Mac on (but locked) keep these alerts from happening? However, if the Mac is out of Bluetooth range of the devices, I can still see an issue.

That’s a great want—I wonder if Apple could add that as part of its automatic pin-dropping system for Bluetooth/CarPlay? Perhaps as an option you enable.

Ah, so there’s a logical problem here. Apple picks one of your mobile devices for your “presence” for Left Behind and other features, like the Find My People section of Find My. If you have an iPhone, it’s an iPhone; no iPhone, it’s an iPad; if you own a Watch, you can select the Watch or Apple will (to my recollection) identify you have the Watch with you because it’s on your wrist and use that.

If you “leave your iPhone behind,” Apple doesn’t know you aren’t there, too, because it treats your iPhone in most cases as “where you are”!

That’s a great question. I have not had reports of this, so I suspect there may be additional variables involved:

  • The Moving With You only occurs when the AirTag is moving along with you. If it’s static, the alerts won’t appear, so that wouldn’t happen in the apartment situation. (Those are the only alerts that pop up on an iPhone or iPad).
  • The static alerts about being in one place too long won’t trigger in places that are identified in the system as your own home, as I understand it. So if you arrive home and there’s an AirTag and Apple “thinks” it’s your home, even if you’re away for weeks, I believe that AirTag won’t sound an alarm. The assumption is…you know it’s in your home. It doesn’t buy you any stalker-like information?

Ha! Good point. From Apple’s perspective, I can’t leave myself behind. :grin:

Actually, this works fine on the Apple Watch, and doesn’t require cellular. The trick is that the Apple Watch knows that it’s paired with your iPhone, so once that pairing fails because the iPhone is out of range—and you’re still wearing the watch—it notifies you that you’ve left the iPhone behind. I don’t know if the Apple Watch also relies on its GPS awareness to know that you’ve moved far enough from your iPhone’s last location.

I get this alert all the time when I drive somewhere to go for a run but leave my iPhone in the car.

Oops, yes. Even if you select your iPhone as your “presence” device this is where Apple figures out that you have a Watch and it is not in the same place as your phone. If you don’t have a Watch, then the iPhone can’t be marked with something else as left behind.

I suspect Apple uses both Bluetooth and other cues for a Watch. I had to look it up, but it seems like GPS is in all Apple Watch models for years (can’t tell when that started; I recall the first couple series did not have GPS?).

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Don’t inform me at this location until time and date is a missing feature and I think I’ve sent this to Apple.

Use case (and I just experienced this): Leaving suitcase in hotel room. I don’t want to know about each time I leave my suitcase in the room until I’ve checked out. Need to be able to a set time and date to start tracking again; more like “don’t inform me at this location until.”

We were on a long trip and of course came and went from our hotel or other temporary residence and it was quite annoying to be informed each time that we had left something behind. Can lead to ignoring the warnings. Particularly since we were frequently using our phone for navigating or looking something up.

Otherwise AirTag in suit case turned out to be useful. My bag didn’t make a connecting flight. When I arrived I could see that it was at our connecting city. Filed report and was assured they would deliver it to our hotel in about a day since it would arrive on the same flight the next day. Three days later still hadn’t happened (delivery). I could see it had made it to the airport of our destination. Of course the phone number they gave me never answered or was busy. Email: ignored. Finally went to the airport and someone helped me to inform the baggage people that I was outside trying to get my bag. All of this of no thanks to Swiss Air subcontractor in Budapest. At least I knew where my bag was. It was crazy hot, so didn’t need extra clothes.

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That’s really good. I also think Apple could auto-suggest: “Hey, you have AirTags associated with your iPhone and it looks like you’ve been here for a day. Would you like to add this to your list of Left Behind exclusions? [for X days]?”

Wait, we’re missing the dramatic conclusion—you got your bag?! That’s great, if so! I think there’s a lot of this going around. Even in calm times, the rare occasions we haven’t had a bag arrive have been a super pain in the patootie. I remember when the airline delayed our bags both directions on one trip. When our bag arrived, they called and said “our guy has gone home for the night.” This was United Airlines…in Seattle…many 1,000s of passengers per day. Their guy. They could have thrown it into a taxi. But, no. Their guy had gone home at 9 p.m.

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That would be great, but for now I just mark the hotel as a place not to inform me for my items and set a Reminder to turn that place back off again.

But, then again, the only risk to this is if somebody steals your item and keeps it at (or brings it to) the hotel. Once you’ve returned home - is that such a horrible thing?

Dramatic conclusion, are you ready for this? The attendant, the same one who took my report four days earlier, came out and fetched me, walked me to the baggage area and there was my bag in with a few dozen others. She said I should have called her! I get that travel is a mess now with Covid, but!

I agree with your enhancement of the improvement needed for FindMy (difficult to separate FindMy from AirTags). Since frequently one’s schedule is in the Calendar, Apple could make the suggestion even smarter. And Apple probably knows how long you’ve booked the hotel for anyway.

Although it can get complicated. I also had AirTags in my camera bag and daypack which weren’t always with me. My first use of AirTags. I do have on Chipolo and decided for the trip to get a four-pack. Wife’s suitcase got the fourth. She’s more annoyed by devices and apps, so didn’t want to give her too many AirTags to start.

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My son is starting university next year, and we’re getting an ebike for him. I want to put an AirTag on it for theft-prevention, but it seems the anti-stalking features make this entirely useless:

  • He will likely be at the campus for longer than 8 hours on occasion, and so the AirTag could presumably start beeping
  • If someone steels the bike, and own an iPhone, Apple will cheerfully tell them to remove it. How helpful.

I get that stalking is a big problem, and I’m all for these safety features, but it also seems to make the device useless for this purpose unless I am missing something.