Cops Warn About New iPhone Feature, Experts Say to Chill

Red flag on NameDrop says user contact info could be inadvertently shared, but tech geeks say no
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2023 12:50 PM CST
Updated Dec 3, 2023 3:40 PM CST
Cops Warn About New iPhone Feature, Experts Say to Chill
A series of iPhone 14 smartphones are seen on display at an Apple Store at the Grove in Los Angeles on Sept. 16, 2022.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A sharing feature built into Apple's latest iOS update has police departments nationwide issuing a warning to iPhone users, but security experts say the hubbub may be a bit hyped up. The new NameDrop feature allows consumers who have phones using iOS 17.1, or watchOS 10.1 on their Apple Watch, to "quickly share contact information with a nearby iPhone or Apple Watch" by simply placing the devices close together—similar to Apple's AirDrop, which allows for the exchange of images between Apple devices. Per People, however, law enforcement officials across the US have sent up a red flag on the technology, noting that NameDrop is automatically set to "on" on users' phones, meaning people (including kids) may unintentionally be granting access to anyone who wants to take their contact information.

"PARENTS: Don't forget to change these settings on your child's phone to help keep them safe as well!" a Facebook post on Sunday from Florida's Longwood Police Department notes. Per People and USA Today, police departments in Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin have all posted similar warnings and instructions on how to turn the feature off. However, experts tell the New York Times that the phones have to be exceptionally close for NameDrop to work (Apple's instructions say "a few centimeters" from each other), and that both users have to give the OK for the info-sharing. "To the extent there's panic here about nonconsensual taking of contact information, I'm not that worried," says cyberlaw expert Mark Bartholomew of the University at Buffalo.

Richard Ficco Sr., police chief in Richland Township, Pennsylvania, says that his department shared the warning simply out of an abundance of caution. "Why give the resourceful criminal a chance?" he noted on social media, per USA Today. "It may be an overreaction, but a lot of people don't even know what comes with their updates and didn't even know this was a feature." If you're still an iPhone owner who'd rather be safe than sorry, disable the NameDrop option by going to Settings > General > AirDrop, then toggling the "Bringing Devices Together" feature to "off." (More iPhone stories.)

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