Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Apple’s AirTags are being abused by car thieves and stalkers


Apple’s AirTags‘ potential as stalker tools have been taken full advantage of, based on stories that emerged over the past week. The reports come shortly after the company rolled out an Android app that allows users to detect unknown AirTags on their person.

Two such stories involve a man and a woman, both of whom reported AirTag trackers being detected on their cars. In the case of the former, it was likely done by car thieves in an attempt to steal the man’s Dodge Charger. According to the report from Fox 2 Detroit, this was just one of many cases in the past few months. The other report comes from a woman who discovered AirTags attached to the front wheel of her car after a night spent in a bar.

In both cases, the worst was averted, with Apple notifying the users that they were unknowingly being tracked by an AirTag, but both were unable to detect the AirTags by themselves. The notifications themselves worked because they both had iPhones. Had they been using Android devices, they would have had to manually run a scan on the Tracker Detect app to find the unwanted AirTags or wait for eight hours for the tags to chime on their own. If the owner of the AirTags were to come within range of the tag before that eight-hour limit expired, that clock would have reset.

Apple’s AirTags are distinctly different from Tile trackers and other Bluetooth trackers because of their use of the Find My network. The greatest strength of the AirTags — from the sheer number of Apple devices you’re likely to encounter in the wild within 30 feet of you to the fact that if you’re reading this, you may well have one of those on you — turn them from a convenient helper to a stalker’s first choice. Can you use a Tile tracker or a specialized GPS tracker for this reason? Absolutely. But the low cost of AirTags and their effective range mean that they’re better choices.

Being around someone with an AirTag is *very* annoying 🤣 pic.twitter.com/GZj8ZeTCck

— Jenna Ezarik (@jennaezarik) May 7, 2021

While Apple has a system for notifying users with iPhones of unknown trackers, it’s not particularly helpful if the AirTags are hidden.

Theft and stalking from strangers are one thing, but the potential of Apple’s AirTags to make a domestic abuse situation hard to escape is something the company has yet to properly mitigate. The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler reported on how easy it was to stalk people with AirTags earlier this year. He pointed out that Apple’s audible alerts amounted to 15 seconds of light chirping. If you do any work with headphones on, you’re pretty much guaranteed to miss it. If you’re being stalked by a partner or someone who lives close to you, the chirp may not even trigger. Finally, the “AirTag found moving with you” notification can be disabled without the pin being entered for confirmation.

AirTags are without a doubt an easy tool to abuse, and Apple has created safeguards that can help users mitigate the abuse. That said, those safeguards clearly aren’t enough. There’s a question about if the very concept of AirTags lends itself to abuse due to (once again) Apple’s sheer scale that rivals can’t duplicate. It’s an issue that Apple needs to deal with before it becomes just one more thing regulators are interested in.

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