CALIFORNIA – Police departments from New Jersey to California have been sounding the alarm in recent days about NameDrop, a new feature of the Apple iPhone’s latest operating system that allows users to wirelessly exchange contact information.
Apple declined to comment, but experts say the warnings that “scammers and thieves” could exploit the feature to harvest a user’s personal information appear to be overblown, if not entirely unfounded.
For starters, the devices must be practically touching for NameDrop to work, and both users must agree to share the information.
Professor Mark Bartholomew, a law professor who focuses on cyber law at the University at Buffalo, said that NameDrop had enough stopgaps in place to prevent someone’s information from being stolen.
“To the extent there’s panic here about nonconsensual taking of contact information, I’m not that worried,” he said.
Here’s what you need to know.
How does NameDrop work?
To use the feature, Apple users need to have updated their devices to the latest version of the operating system – iOS 17.1 for the iPhone or WatchOS 10.1 for the Apple Watch, both of which have the feature enabled as a default setting.
Users hold one device over the other, within a few centimeters, until NameDrop appears on both screens. They can then choose to exchange contact details, or one may simply receive contact information from the other without reciprocating. An exchange can be canceled by pulling a device away or by locking its screen before the transfer is complete.
NameDrop works similarly to AirDrop, which allows users of Apple laptops, iPhones and iPads to exchange photos as long as they are within Bluetooth and Wi-Fi range. But while some people exploited that feature in its early days to harass unsuspecting strangers with explicit images, it appears to be much harder, if not impossible, to use NameDrop to send unwanted information or harvest personal details without consent.
Even if someone has NameDrop enabled on an iPhone, the phone must be almost touching another device for the feature to work, and both users would still have to agree to share. And even then, the only information that is shared are the details that users have added to their contact cards.
What are the police saying?
The warnings, mostly shared on Facebook, follow a similar format. NameDrop allows information to be shared between phones that come within close contact, the warnings say. Young people are at particular risk, the police say, telling parents to disable the feature on their children’s phones, and on their own phones as well.