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Apple opens up accessory-tracking app scrutinized by antitrust probes


Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California.

Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc/Handout via Reuters

iPhones will soon be able to track lost items using a built-in app called Find My, Apple announced on Wednesday.

The first products that work with Find My will be released next week, Apple said. They include e-bikes from VanMoof, wireless earbuds from Belkin, and an item finder from Chipolo. These products will use other people’s Apple devices in a privacy-sensitive way to find lost objects and show their location inside the Find My app on a map.

Find My was originally announced last summer at Apple’s annual developer conference and builds on an existing service called Find My iPhone.

For Apple, the Find My app is a feature for its customers that adds to the value of the iPhone and if it’s useful, it could make users less likely to switch to competing Android devices.

However, the service has been dogged by scrutiny from lawmakers and complaints from Tile and other companies that sell competing products. Tile has brought complaints to the European Union and participates in an industry group that is critical of Apple.

In January 2020, Tile’s general counsel, Kirsten Daru, testified in front of a Congressional hearing accusing Apple of using its market power to disadvantage its product and favor its own services, including adding pop-ups to iPhone software that required users to repeatedly agree to let Tile’s software operate in the background.

Tile also pointed to reports from analysts and media that pointed to Apple preparing its own lost-item tracker hardware, and said that as Apple was reportedly working on that product that it had started to hassle Tile, including removing its products from Apple retail stores.

Apple disagreed with Tile’s arguments and said at the time that it would make changes to its iPhone software that would allow Tile’s product to work better, such as letting it run in the background. It also later announced the Find My program during the summer.

“Apple’s solution would continue to put Tile and other apps and hardware developers offering finder services at a competitive disadvantage,” a House Judiciary subcommittee report released last October concluded.

Apple has never confirmed that it is working on lost-item tracker hardware. It was not announced in Wednesday’s press release, nor was Tile mentioned. A Tile representative didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Apple’s Find My technology uses Apple devices’ Bluetooth wireless signals to create a network of devices looking out for lost items. Apple said on Wednesday that the process is end-to-end encrypted and anonymous, so that neither Apple nor the manufacturer of a Find My object knows where it is. Only the user and their iPhone know the location of the product.

Apple also said that it would release specifications so that accessory makers could use a new chip in recent iPhones using a different kind of wireless signal called ultra wideband to locate lost objects, too.

Companies that want to build Find My products can participate in Apple’s authorized accessories program, called MFi. Apple said that additional companies will bring Find My-compatible products to market.

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