Reports claim Apple AirTag electronic tracking device used in stalking, theft: What to know

The button-sized devices can attach to almost anything via a key ring.

ByChristy Somos, Writer, CNNWire
Friday, January 7, 2022
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Heralded as the new gadget to help the public from losing their keys or to find a lost dog, Apple AirTags have quickly become a popular item from the technology giant since they were released this year.

The button-sized devices can attach to almost anything via a key ring, and iPhone users can use a feature on their phones called "Find My" that allows them to track a tag's location using Bluetooth.

Android users can download the Tracker Detect app from the Google Play store to do the same thing.

However, reports show that the tags can also be used to track people unsuspectingly, if slipped into a purse, suitcase or a car, raising questions about privacy and safety.

The York Regional Police in Ont. issued a warning in December about "a new method" being used by car thieves to track and steal high-end vehicles across the region.

"Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them," the release says. "Brand name 'air tags' [sic] are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots. Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim's residence, where they are stolen from the driveway."

Online, users of Reddit, Twitter and TikTok have been recounting getting notifications on their phones about a nearby tag, only to find one of the devices in their car or amongst their possessions.

A Washington Post technology columnist tested the tech's ability to "stalk" him by having a colleague slip a tag into his bag - it was able to show his position roughly within a half a block radius while he was out for a bike ride, and when he was stationary at home, gave his colleague his exact address.

On its website, Apple says it has incorporated features in the AirTags to discourage "unwanted tracking," including audible alarms and messages about nearby tags that pop up on iPhones.

"To discourage being tracked without your knowledge, Find My will notify you if an unknown AirTag or other Find My network accessory is seen moving with you over time," Apple's site says. "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."

Apple's website also gives instructions on what to do if you get a notification that a tag is in your vicinity.

If you receive a notification that an AirTag is nearby, tap the message and hit "continue."

If you need assistance in locating the tag, hit the "play sound" option which will emit a chirp from your phone to help you locate the tag amongst your belongings or nearby.

Apple says if the AirTag is from a lost item or from an item you are borrowing, that users can tap the "Pause Safety Alerts" to turn off the notifications or "learn about this AirTag" to see its serial number and if the owner has marked it as lost.

If you get a notification of an "item detected" and you do not have an AirTag or have not borrowed anything with one, it could be from an AirTag that was slipped into your belongings.

The Apple site says to follow the on-screen instructions to disable the AirTag's ability to share its location and "if you feel your safety is at risk, contact your local law enforcement," and to "look through your belongings to try and find it."

However, if the AirTag is within range of the person who registered it, users will not be able to use the "play sound" option to try and find it.

In an emailed statement to Tuesday, an Apple spokesperson said the company takes safety seriously and is "committed to AirTag's privacy and security."

"AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking - a first in the industry - that both inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them, and deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes," the statement said. "If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag."

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