New York Police Departments Share Misinformed iPhone Warning
Police departments across the state are spreading misleading information about the dangers of iPhones and it's hard to watch.
The police are supposed to make everyone feel safer, but lately, many police departments are acting more and more like your confused Uncle who is sharing crazy conspiracy theories on Facebook.
Unfortunately, this isn't anything new. Earlier this year, local police departments were caught spreading false information about the dangers of fentanyl. While the drug can be fatal to those who use it, fentanyl poses very little risk to people who are exposed to it through casual contact.
That didn't stop many local police departments from sharing debunked stories about people overdosing by touching residue or officers experiencing physical distress by inhaling the air near the drug. None of these incidents are physically possible and have been widely discredited by the scientific community.
iPhone Warning Spread by Police Throughout New York State
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, several Facebook posts went viral by police departments across the country warning about a "dangerous" iPhone feature. The posts were eventually picked up by local law enforcement agencies, apparently without being verified as to their accuracy.
Most of the warnings claim that a new iPhone feature makes it possible for strangers to secretly steal information about your contacts just by being in close proximity to your phone.
iPhone Warning is Proven to be Misleading, if not Completely False
While it sounds scary that someone can secretly steal your information by getting close to your phone, it's simply not true.
The feature, which has been around since September, is an expansion of the phone's AirDrop capability. While it's true that you can share contact information with someone else by tapping their phone, it's not as easy to do as the police claim. And it's virtually impossible to do by accident.
Contrary to the Rockland County Sheriff's warning, NameDrop doesn't trigger by "just bringing your phones close together". The process only begins if both users unlock their phones and hold them together for up to five seconds. Even if all of that happens by mistake, iPhone users must first confirm that they want to share their information before any data is given out.
Unless you specifically tap the button that says "share" none of your information will be shared with the other party. Even then, you will be given the option to share whatever pieces of information you want, whether it just be your name, phone number or email address. You can still keep any of your personal information you don't want to share a secret. It's highly unlikely all of these steps could be done by accident, but if they were, simply moving your phone further away immediately cancels NameDrop.
But What About the Children?
Variations of the iPhone warning from police departments claim that the feature is especially dangerous to children because strangers can target their phones without their parents knowing. This is very misleading.
Children would have to do all of the same steps listed above to share their contact information with a stranger. Unattended children who are able to spend that much time touching their phone to a stranger's phone and then allowing them to instruct the child on how to share their information are in much more danger than giving out their phone number.
A predator given that much time alone with a child in such close proximity could just as easily ask the child to open their phone and write down their contact info.
Ricks Daily Tips, a technology blog that helps people understand security issues and other features on their devices, says the warning is simply nonsense.
Regular readers of this blog and my Tech Tip Newsletter know how much importance I place on privacy and security. Trust me, if I thought NameDrop posed a serious threat to either I would certainly say so.
Why are Police Sharing Misinformation?
It's very unnerving to watch law enforcement share information that is just fodder for Facebook shares. The people who we trust to protect our lives should know better than to broadcast bogus claims and encourage fearmongering.
There are enough real threats going on around us to be concerned about. We don't need the police getting the public in hysterics over things that are just not dangerous at all. The fact that it keeps happening has made me question just how well-trained some of our law enforcement agencies are and how capable they are of determining the truth.
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Gallery Credit: Traci Taylor