Police departments across the US, including Massachusetts, put iPhone users on high alert earlier in the week in reshared safety warnings of Apple’s iOS 17 NameDrop feature, but a majority of these warnings weren’t accurate.
“IPHONE SECURITY RISK,” began a Facebook post from the Waltham Police Department first shared on Monday, Nov. 27.
“There is a new iOS 17 update, which includes ‘NameDrop’ on Apple products that automatically shares your contact information when you are close to other Apple products without permission,” the department inaccurately stated.
“When you install the update, this setting defaults to on, rather than have you opt into the feature,” it wrote and gave instructions on how to turn off the setting.
But the department later updated its post – after it got many shares, comments and views.
“NameDrop feature does not automatically share all your information with other iPhone users,” the department corrected itself. “It offers you the opportunity to share information. The iPhones have to be close together in order for this to happen.”
“Some of us are not iPhone users, so we can’t test this new feature to tell you if the website information is factual or not,” the department added, and wrote the intent of the post was to raise awareness on changing technology.
The Waltham Police Department did not respond to MassLive’s request for comment.
The iPhone feature was first announced on June 5 in Apple’s press release on iOS 17, and the software was made available for download in the fall.
NameDrop allows iPhone users to quickly share contact information with another nearby iPhone or Apple Watch. The users have to have their phones a few centimeters away from each other and each choose to share their contact card. They also have to choose to receive the other person’s.
Like many of the police department’s posts, the Chicopee Police Department’s initial post had concerns for children’s safety. But it was not clear what the concerns were.
In its post update, the police department wrote, “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.”
Chicopee echoed Waltham’s walked-back statements in the updated version of its post.
“There’s nothing to fear if you have the setting turned on. The only way your contact information will be shared is if you and the other person hold your phones very close to each other, unlock them both, and then accept the swap,” the department clarified.
“There is no way for anyone to get your information without it first popping up on your screen and you or them physically tapping the ‘accept’ prompt,’ it said.
Other Massachusetts departments that jumped on the anti-NameDrop train included Needham, and Dighton’s post was re-shared by Dartmouth and Norton.
Norton Police Chief Brian Clark acknowledged the department’s widespread reach with 12,000 followers on Facebook, and said it’s up to the public whether they “choose to be aware or not.”
“We’re not trying to sway people one way or another, but we did think it was beneficial to inform (the public) if they choose to be informed,” Clark said of the NameDrop feature, despite the inaccuracies in the post the department re-shared.
“Please be aware of the new IPhone upgrade. Some say it’s true, some not. In any event there was a change be aware if you wish,” Norton Police had written above Dighton’s post.
It did not detail any further information about what may or may not be true about the shared post.
The chief added his department had re-shared Dighton’s post after he’d seen multiple other verified departments’ posts and several national stories on concerns of NameDrop, like USA Today’s initial article which said iOS 17 makes sharing content between phones “the easiest it’s ever been” and clarified both users have to opt in to share the contact information.
The outlet included how NameDrop works: “Just place the phones near each other and wait for them to connect. You’ll see the screens react, and then the other person’s details will appear. You can choose between only receiving their information or also sharing yours.”
“For NameDrop to work, the phones have to be very, very close together, so don’t worry about accidentally sharing your details with a stranger,” it said. USA Today has since released another article discussing police departments’ warnings.
Sophos digital security specialist Chester Wisniewski calling the warnings “hysteria,” and “nonsense,” according to The Washington Post, adding that it raises the question of whether some police departments are aware of the pull and reach their statements on social media have.
Needham Deputy Chief Chris Baker said it posted the warning as an extra precaution, especially when it comes to messages about children, but doubled down on the false notion NameDrop could allow an Apple user’s contact info to be taken without their permission.
“If you get information that someone’s contact information could be potentially taken without them knowing, we err on side of caution and make sure they’re aware of this potential,” Baker said.
Needham Police Department posted almost the exact same language as Dighton, with the addition, “We are aware the ‘drop’ has to be approved but when in the wrong hands, could easily be manipulated on a child’s phone.”
Baker reiterated the department would always inform the public “when something about youths come out and their contact information being shared.”
Davey Winder, a veteran cybersecurity and tech analyst for Forbes, said although there is “some truth in the idea that a stalker or other malicious actor could access your contact details”, he called it a “tenuous truth”.
“That person would require physical access to your unlocked iPhone to allow the receipt of the contact data,” Winder wrote, “… if someone has access to an unlocked device, then it’s game over as far as privacy is concerned.”
The feature is designed to require multiple steps to get the contact information.
“The real truth is that, despite being defaulted to an on position, the NameDrop feature isn’t just going to throw your contact details at any passing person with an iPhone,” the expert said.
“… That alone should calm the fears of most rational users but if you are still concerned the safeguards don’t end there,” Winder wrote. – masslive.com/Tribune News Service