Apple AirTags are marketed as nifty gadgets that you can attach to your personal belongings to prevent them from getting lost and for finding stolen items. The tags connect to your Apple device and you can track the location of your purse, handbag or keys through a secure Bluetooth signal.
Not only can these be used to track belongings, but they are now being misused to track people without their consent. Although Apple have claimed the process is encrypted to protect your privacy, stalking claims have raised serious safety issues for consumers, regardless of what brand device they use. These stalking cases are becoming more and more frequent and make me question just how ethical these gadgets are.
Because the devices are so small, it makes it easy for them to be hidden in handbags or cars without the target’s knowledge. The BBC has spoken to six women who all say they have been tracked with AirTags. One said she had found an AirTag taped to the inside of a bag. Others haven’t been able to locate the tags.
Apple have defended themselves against the stalking claims, highlighting the fact that people with an iPhone would be alerted if an unregistered AirTag was moving with them. And, the AirTags would make a beeping noise when separated from an owner for a period of time. However, the alert only occurs after 8 hours, and by then it could be too late. It is only 60 decibels loud, (a conversational volume) and many people have reported that the alert can be easily muffled, even by closing one’s fist around the AirTag. The likelihood of someone hearing it when lodged somewhere in their car, or home is slim.
Another issue that stemmed from this is that only people with Apple devices would be alerted if an unauthorised AirTag was found nearby them. Android is the most popular operating system in the world, with over 2.5 billion active users. In response to this, Apple recently released an app called Tracker Detect, that allows Android users who aren’t using an Apple device to be notified of a rogue AirTag – yet the app must be proactively downloaded and kept active to be effective, and is only compatible with Android 9 or higher.
Eva Galperin, Director of Cyber-Security at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, quite rightly pointed out that ”If you create an item which is useful for tracking stolen items, then you have also created a perfect tool for stalking.” Did Apple not consider this before the launch of the AirTag? And if so, why didn’t they ensure they had a fool-proof plan to prevent these stalking cases from occurring before the launch? The bottomline is, are Apple doing enough to stop their products from tracking people?
Apple have since released a safety guide alongside the AirTags, which offers step-by-step instructions on how users can protect themselves. But why is it the responsibility of us, the consumers, to take action so we aren’t harassed? Apple should have put tight safety measures in place before the launch of the product, which may have prevented these issues from occurring.
Being a victim of a voyeuristic crime myself, these cases are particularly unnerving. Although Apple’s intentions weren’t malicious with the creation of AirTags, regardless, they still add to the expanding market of surveillance technology and stalker-ware, which is putting many people, especially women, in danger. These devices are becoming increasingly easy to get hold of – which isn’t helped by the low price point of the AirTag (£30 each). A 2021 international study by the security company Norton found the number of devices reporting stalkerware daily “increased markedly by 63% between September 2020 and May 2021”, and I fear this will only increase without proper action.