Lost Key or Loss of Freedom? The new dangers of Apple’s AirTag technology

The Apple AirTag is the latest innovative idea from Apple. The button-sized devices were developed to be compatible with Apple’s ‘Find My’ network, to help track and locate lost items from car keys to luggage. Despite what at first might seem a creative, problem-solving solution to helping people find their lost car keys at the bottom of a drawer, certain problems have arisen particularly in the US where there have been multiple reports of misuse of this technology by those accused of stalking, according to a report from the BBC.

After its initial launch in April 2021, Eva Galperin the Director of Cyber-Security at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stated that she believed that due to the technology being used for tracking items, it allows for the tracking of people- which of course is a misuse of this technology. Despite a statement made by Apple with regards to the security of AirTag users and their awareness of the possibility of misuse of this technology, Apple created a series of safeguarding material that they claimed would protect people from being tracked. iPhone users are altered if an unregistered AirTag is attached or moving with them. When separated from their registered owner for a set period of time AirTags alter with a loud beeping noise. To take even further action towards safeguarding users, and those who may be unaware of an attached AirTag, Apple developed an Android app ‘Tracker Detect’ to allow non-IOS operating system users to be alerted of any unsolicited AirTags. For many however, these safeguarding procedures are not enough.

Although some may say that purchasing a £30 AirTag to track someone may seem a little extreme, multiple reports have come to light in the US of women stating that they believe that they are being tracked and therefore stalked through the use of this new tech. Six women reported to have been altered by rogue AirTags near their location, in their cars or on their handbags, and some have unfortunately not even been able to find the AirTag they were altered to, due to the lack of precise location instructions. Due to their experiences, all of the women are now questioning Apple’s actions, or lack of, in safeguarding their customers.

AirTags were designed to make their beeping noise around 8–24 hours after the small, round, button-like device is detected moving with an unregistered iPhone. However, it is clear from the events described by the previously mentioned women, that it is much easier to register an AirTag than it is to disable one. With one of the women who got in touch with Apple Support, being told that they believed that the AirTag had been attached to the lady’s car until she was home, and then being switched off, meaning that there was the high possibility that those who had attached the AirTag had her exact location, and not just her location in that moment but the precise location of her family home.

Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash

It is clear that there are some security issues relating to Apple’s new item tracking device, and there are even bigger concerns, as the app developed for Android users has been downloaded by a very small number- only 100,000 of the three billion active Android devices across the world, meaning that they may become a target for those who are instigating these tracking missions. Those who are non Apple users, are warned of unwanted AirTags by a 60 decibel beep which is activated after 8 hours, however Eva Galperin, reiterates that this noise is easy to cover, especially if in a noisy area or attached to the underside of a car of which you are in.

Responding to these reports, Apple commented “we take customer safety very seriously” and made it clear that they are committed to AirTag privacy and security for its users. They also reiterated that the AirTag’s security is a lot more advanced and safe than that of similar products designed and developed by its competitors. Tile, which is the main competitor of Apple in this item tracker market, does not currently have a solution for identifying an unknown device, however it is looking to develop a solution which combats this problem.

Therefore, it can be said that Apple has been unfairly attacked, as it is just as easy to buy other tracking devices online, and that on the positive side the technology is impressive and that AirTags who are registered with the correct users iPhone are easily accessible using the ‘Find My’ network which currently has a billion Apple devices registered creates long-range and accurate tracking. Apple further commented that they encourage users who feel that their safety is at risk to contact their local police, in alignment with Apple to provide any information available in relation to the unknown AirTag in question.

It is clear that although there have not been many reports of the misuse of AirTags for the purpose of stalking, it is, however, clear that the six women in the US who have been affected by this issue have serious concerns about their safety. Even those who are not Apple product users have the potential to be affected by the misuse of this technology and therefore it is of the best interest of Apple to put in place further safeguarding measures to ensure not only the safety of their customers but all mobile device users, as they also have the potential to become at risk. Yes, Apple are aware of the issues that the AirTag could bring for more people, however it can be said they need to take further in action to prevent the misuse of their new product other than suggesting that those affected speak to the police, because as we know that may mean that it is already too late.



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Hannah Mercer

Founder of DragonflAI — On-Device Nudity Moderation. My mission is protect children by reducing the volume of child abuse online. www.dragonflai.co