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Here’s what it looks like when someone uses an Apple AirTag to stalk you

Published May 20th, 2021 9:00AM EDT
AirTag Tracking
Image: Apple Inc.

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Apple last month officially introduced AirTag, a Bluetooth-enabled tracker designed to help users locate items like handbags, wallets, backpacks, and luggage when they go missing. One of the cooler AirTag features, as Apple notes, is that it can tap into “the vast, global Find My network and can help locate a lost item, all while keeping location data private and anonymous with end-to-end encryption.”

Like any tracking device, Apple’s AirTag naturally introduces a number of privacy concerns. For example, imagine a scenario where a jilted boyfriend or girlfriend discreetly attaches an AirTag to an item that belongs to their old significant other. Suffice it to say, the opportunity for stalkers to take advantage of a product like AirTag is very real, but Apple has worked hard to address many of these security considerations.

Take the relationship scenario above, for example. In a scenario where someone is being tracked without their knowledge, Apple’s security framework can detect when an AirTag appears to be moving along with a person who didn’t register the device.

An Apple support document on the matter reads:

To discourage tracking without your knowledge, Find My will notify you if an unknown AirTag is seen moving with you over time. An AirTag that isn’t with the person who registered it for an extended period of time will also play a sound when moved so you can find it, even if you don’t use an iOS device.

Now that AirTag is available for sale, iDownloadBlog has provided us with a snapshot of what the aforementioned warning notification looks like:

Image source: iDownloadBlog

Upon tapping the notification above, users are then presented with a screen that relays when the AirTag was first detected with them along with an option to disable the AirTag and prevent it from sharing your location data.

What’s more, iOS will also provide you with a map that highlights the extent of the AirTag’s tracking, as evidenced by the photo below:

Image source: iDownloadBlog

And if the AirTag was surreptitiously hidden on an item of clothing or, perhaps, hidden inside of a backpack, you can select “Play Sound” to help you locate the tracker. Incidentally, The Wall Street Journal notes that the sound is nothing more than “15 seconds of light chirping” so you might have some difficulty locating it in a noisy environment.

Apple’s instructions for how to handle a scenario where an unauthorized AirTag is tracking you reads as follows:

  1. Tap the message.
  2. Tap Continue. If you need help finding the AirTag, tap Play Sound.*
  3. If the AirTag is attached to an item you’re borrowing, you can tap Pause Safety Alerts to turn off “AirTag Detected” notifications for one day. If you’re borrowing an AirTag from a member of your Family Sharing group, you can turn off Safety Alerts for one day or indefinitely.
  4. You can tap Learn About This AirTag to see its serial number if the owner marked it as lost.
  5. To disable the AirTag and stop sharing your location, tap Instructions to Disable AirTag and follow the onscreen steps. If you feel your safety is at risk, contact your local law enforcement who can work with Apple. You might need to provide the AirTag or its serial number.

While Apple’s AirTag isn’t stalker-proof, Apple did create a more thoughtful and security-minded product than you’ll see from rival tracker companies.

“These are an industry-first, strong set of proactive deterrents,” an Apple spokesperson told the Journal recently. “It’s a smart and tunable system, and we can continue improving the logic and timing so that we can improve the set of deterrents.”

An individual AirTag can be purchased for $29 while a pack of four will set you back $99.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.