Apple rolled out a feature this week allowing iPhone and Apple Watch users to share contacts with nearby devices, sparking widespread warnings from police departments nationwide over potential security risks, though some analysts say those warnings are overblown.
Apple released NameDrop on its latest iOS 17.1 operating system update, allowing users to share saved contacts between other newer iPhones or Apple Watches within an inch of each other, operating in a similar way as Apple’s AirDrop feature, which allows users to send photos when iPhones are within several dozen feet of each other.
The Oakland County Sheriff’s Department outside Detroit urged residents to deactivate the feature, a sheriff’s office in Tennessee warned people to “BEWARE” of NameDrop because it lets users share contacts “just by bringing your phones close together,” while police in Watertown, Connecticut, warned “anyone” can obtain contact information from another phone through NameDrop.
Alan Crowetz, a cyber security expert with IT firm InfoStream, also warned strangers walking by could try to receive contact information using NameDrop, telling CBS Philadelphia “we’ve seen how the bad guys, the pedophiles and whatnot really take advantage of” emails and phone numbers, calling the feature a “major red flag.”
However, the feature only works between two smartphones when they are unlocked, with the top ends of those phones placed together, and only after users tap “share” or “receive” on their phones to send email addresses and phone numbers with one another.
As a result, some analysts have referred to the warnings about NameDrop as fearmongering: Sophos digital security expert Chester Wisniewski told the Washington Post the warnings amount to “hysteria” and “nonsense.”
Cybersecurity analyst and Forbes contributor Davey Winder also called 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.”
Apple announced NameDrop as an extension of its AirDrop feature at a developer conference in June. In a statement, Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said “privacy is designed into every” new product the Silicon Valley tech giant releases, adding: “We are focused on keeping our users in the driver’s seat when it comes to their data by continuing to provide industry-leading privacy features.” Like other features on its devices, users can turn off—and reactivate—NameDrop at any time through the phone’s settings, by clicking off a button labeled “Bringing Devices Together.”
In Bangor, Maine, police Lt. Tim Cotton took a different tack on Facebook: He said he had received “some panicky emails” about the feature, but asked iPhone users to “reconsider freaking out,” reiterating Apple’s note that in order to use the feature, phones have to essentially be touching each other.
Oakland County Sheriff’s Office issues warning about Apple iPhone system update (Detroit Free Press)