Back in February I wrote about a nasty new trend of hiding Apple’s AirTags to covertly track targets for various illicit and possibly harmful pursuits. At the time, the media had a handful of reports of the small tracking devices being used to locate and steal cars, and 2 high-profile instances of alleged stalking but it seems to have been enough negative attention to get Apple to address this unintended use case. Since the reporting in Februrary, Apple has made some changes to the technology that will make unwanted or hidden devices easier to find, which appears to be working more or less, as police report filings seem to be demonstrating.
What this means for you
From reports acquired from eight police departments, Vice Magazine identified 150 reported incidents involving AirTags, and 50 of them were from women who detected and/or found unknown AirTags being used to track their location. Using GPS devices and software to track people covertly isn’t new, but the widely available, cheap ($29) and easy-to-use AirTag has delivered a stalking tool of nightmarish proportions. On top of this, if you don’t own an iPhone and aren’t aware of the Android app (Apple’s app and the open source one I recommended on my previous post) that can detect unwanted AirTags or aren’t even aware that such a technology exists, it’s quite possible there are plenty more people who are being stalked and just don’t know about it. Just doing back-of-the-napkin math based on an average of six reports per police department, with approximately 18,000 police departments in the US, we’re looking at potentially over 100,000 potential victims, just in the US. Unfortunately for everyone, this technology cat is well out of the bag – estimates have as many as 25M of the devices sold since launch, and even if Apple was to stop producing this device, a dozen cheap copy-cat devices will step right into the void, with or without Apple or Google’s permission. Even more disheartening was the reported knowledge gap many victims encountered from local law enforcement when reporting the digital stalking. It’s not even universally clear whether using AirTags to stalk someone is a crime, nor would it be practical for law enforcement alone to police this problem. We have yet another technology pickle on our hands where perhaps profit got ahead of thoughtful and ethical implementation.
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay