Wednesday, Dec 22, 2021, 10:50 Economy

Can You Be Stalked With Apple AirTags? A Growing Problem

Apple's "Find My" app allows users to ping the location of all of their Apple devices and track the movement of lost or stolen devices. The new "AirTags" are essentially an add-on for the service intended for tracking items or possessions, as per the feature's popularity – particularly amongst iPhone users. Obviously, devices or tracking implements such as the AirTags only function as long as the battery is still alive.

A concern that was brought up and somewhat dismissed after the announcement of the AirTags was that they might be used for stalking. Of course, it would technically be possible to stalk someone via "Find My" for users who have an extra or even cheap, older iPhone, either by leaving the iPhone in someone's bag or vehicle – but reports of any such events have been none existent and concerns about the AirTags being used for any such purpose were more or less dismissed.

With the advent of the AirTags now, it's become apparent that any such espionage is much easier to perform with a small, hardly noticeable "AirTag" with a more accessible price tag than that of the iPhone. Since the product's release, Apple has stressed that it is intended only for keeping track of items or searching for lost or stolen goods and not for any tracking of people, espionage, nor stalking purposes – and there are even protective mechanisms against any such attempted actions.

AirTag Anti-Stalking Measures
AirTags will inform users in the area of the product's presence when the owner isn't around for a long enough time. This occurs via a warning notification on the iPhone of the respective person, as well as via a warning sound played by the AirTags eight to twenty four hours after the absence of the owner. For Android users, Apple has released an app that can be used to find AirTags. However, this process is unfortunately entirely manual and not automatic. It's also unclear as to how many Android users are going to go out of their way to download an app made by Apple for a potential issue that they may be entirely unaware of.



AirTag Warnings – But Do They Come Soon Enough?
About one day passes until a warning appears about potentially mis-purposed AirTags. Over the last few months, however, more and more reports have circulated concerning misuse of Apple's new tracking implements. The Canadian police have even warned their citizens about AirTags being used for auto theft. At the same time, concerns about stalking have increased as more reports of AirTags being used to stalk potential victims have been spotted in the media. Despite this, it still takes a while until potential are notified of an AirTag having been slid into a pocket of their jacket or purse.

Source: Twitter user jeana jeana

Concerning Reports
More and more reports of AirTag misuse are popping up on social media, even as of just this week, when Twitter user "jeana jeana" (see source link above) was notified that an AirTag was "moving with" her and that "The location of this AirTag can be seen by the owner". The notification in question arises, as mentioned previously, when an AirTag unconnected to a user's Apple ID is found to be traveling with them. She ended up searching all of her belongings until she eventually found and discarded the foreign AirTag.

Critique Of Apple's Handling
The affected Twitter user criticizes Apple for its mixed messages involving the AirTags. Although the company seems committed to not knowing where the AirTags are at any given moment for privacy reasons – this still doesn't protect users from almost entirely arbitrary live tracking by other users. Twitter user "jeana jeana" points out that it doesn't do much to help victims when there's no protocol at Apple for tracking AirTags and thus AirTag misuse, when its own customers can easily track AirTags live without having to jump through any kind of hoops even in the event that they might be doing so for nefarious reasons and infringing upon another's privacy.

A Difficult Task For Apple
Thus, the pressure is increasing for Apple to find a way to undertake further measures against "AirTag stalking" without affecting the tracking implement's functionality too greatly. One possibility could be to warn users about nearby AirTags much earlier. On the same hand, however, not every iPhone should receive a message just because an AirTag was found nearby for a few minutes. Such a scenario would lead to obvious constant annoyance, thus the challenge for Apple is making the time before "alarm" period short enough to alert potential victims and long enough not to become an annoyance for anyone in the vicinity of a lone AirTag.

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