Several law enforcement agencies in the country are concerned about users unwittingly sharing contact information through the new feature
Police are cautioning iPhone users over security concerns related to a new feature that is part of Apple's latest operating system software update.
Called NameDrop, the feature allows users with iOS 17.1 and watchOS 10.1 “to quickly share contact information with a nearby iPhone or Apple Watch,” according to the tech company.
One of the steps involves holding the display of an iPhone near the top of another person’s iPhone or Apple Watch, or bringing one's Apple Watch close to another user's Apple Watch after opening the contacts app and tapping "share."
Users then “continue holding your devices near each other until NameDrop appears on both screens,” said Apple, which added that in order to complete the exchange they can “choose to share your contact card and receive the other person’s, or to only receive the other person’s.”
The company added that the feature is only for sharing new contact information, not updating an already-existing contact.
NameDrop, however, has drawn concerns from law enforcement agencies. As reported by Fox 35 Orlando, Florida's Longwood Police Department said that the feature is defaulted to “on,” meaning that users, among them children, may unwittingly divulge contact information with others.
“PARENTS: Don’t forget to change these settings on your child’s phone to help keep them safe as well!,” the department wrote in a Facebook post from Sunday. They added, “Don’t lend your phone to a stranger!”
In addition to the Longwood Police Department, other law enforcement agencies around the country — including Tennessee's Henry County Sheriff's Office, Virginia's Halifax Police Department, Wisconsin's Village of Mount Pleasant Police Department and Ohio's Middletown Division of Police — have made similar warnings, USA Today reported.
“This is intended for the public to be aware of as this is something that can easily be mistaken or looked past by elderly, children or other vulnerable individuals,” the Village of Mount Pleasant Police Department wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “The intentions of the information provided is to inform the public of this feature and adjust their settings as needed to keep their own or their loved ones contact information safe.”
Per The Detroit Free Press, Michigan's Oakland County Sheriff’s Office also voiced concerns about NameDrop. “We know that it allows you to share it and you can refuse but many people do not check their settings and realize how their phone works. This particular setting defaults to on rather than have you opt in. And again, it is the area where you also decide who can access AirDrop,” they posted on Facebook.
To turn off the NameDrop feature, police recommend users on their devices go to “Settings,” “General,” “AirDrop,” “Bringing Devices Together,” and then switch to “OFF.”
PEOPLE reached out to Apple Thursday for comment.
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However, experts said that such fears over NameDrop are unnecessary, per a story in The New York Times published Wednesday. For example, the devices have to be almost touching each other for NameDrop to be activated.
“To the extent there’s panic here about nonconsensual taking of contact information, I’m not that worried,” Mark Bartholomew, a University at Buffalo law professor who specializes in cyberlaw, told the newspaper, saying that there are measures in place to prevent theft of information.
A cybersecurity analyst for Forbes added that the "risk of a stranger accessing contact information through the feature a 'very tenuous truth' because accessing that information still requires physical access to an unlocked phone, adding that if a stranger already has access to an unlocked phone, 'then it’s game over as far as privacy is concerned.' "
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