WWDC 2019: Find My Apple

Photo by  Medhat Dawoud  on  Unsplash

One of the more interesting things to come out of the 2019 Apple World Wide Development Conference this year is "Find My", formerly "Find My iPhone".

In a nutshell; this technology allows you to find the location of, for example, your MacBook laptop even if it is closed and disconnected from the internet. It does this using a clever combination of cryptography and Bluetooth technologies. You know, sorcery.

In order for it to work you must have two Apple devices. I have a MacBook Pro and an iPhone. When I fire them up after an OS upgrade this fall they'll talk to each other and generate numbers to serve as unique identifiers and then send those numbers along with their GPS locations to Apple by piggy-backing on existing network traffic (thus saving battery). Periodically they will update Apple with a new location.

Now let's say I'm at a coffee shop and need to go potty. Bad Guy sees me walk away and takes his shot. He snatches my computer and runs out the door, completely ignoring the fact that his Mocha Latte Frappuwhatsit is ready. I get back to my table to see my laptop gone so I take his drink. It's only fair.

Meanwhile, Bad Guy gets home and opens my laptop up. He thinks he can hack into it, wipe the drive, and sell it for raised-pinky-finger-amounts-of-cash. What he doesn't know is that since he lives in his parents basement my trusty MacBook Pro has seen their iPhones and has quietly shipped off its current location by connecting to them over Bluetooth and they relay that information to Apple. (What he also doesn't know is that it's a six year old computer and not worth a whole lot anymore. Whatever. I have his drink.)

Cops are called. With my iPhone in one hand and his tasty beverage in the other I show them exactly where the guy is at that very moment. His mom disowns him. He begs the cops to arrest him because she won't stop beating him with a wooden spoon for stealing. Again. Reality TV at its finest.

When Apple announced this the first thing all the pundits did was point out that, "look how easy it's going to be to track people's physical location and Apple are hypocrites!" Except, based on what we've learned so far, that's not true. Because the devices create a cryptographically unique id, not even Apple knows who the device belongs to, much less nosey marketers. What is required is using one device to decrypt that unique ID generated by the other and thus see the location. In my case, I pull up my iPhone and using the Find My app, see the location of my MacBook Pro.

This is a wonderful use of several existing technologies that prove that a company can provide useful and productive tools to customers while still protecting their privacy.

Courtesy of Darrell Brogdon, CIO of Raika Technologies and GotAnAppIdea.com.