Apple Says AirTags Have Anti-Stalking Tech Built In — But People Have Already Found Loopholes

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Woman being followed looking behind her

Apple’s AirTags claim to have built-in anti-stalking technology — but they might not be a stalker-proof as the tech giant would like us to believe.

AirTags are Apple’s long-awaited response to the influx of tracking devices on the market, such as the Tile, a bluetooth tracker that works with a corresponding app.

The poker chip-sized devices can be attached to your keys, phone or any other valuable personal items you frequently misplace.

But, as with every new piece of technology, AirTags may pose new threats to personal safety.

Tracking devices are easily misused by stalkers, abusive partners and dangerous exes to keep tabs on people they are suspicious of or are trying to control.

And while Apple does claim to have covered their bases to keep consumers safe, all it takes is one person finding a way around the company's restrictions to harm someone.

Apple says AirTags have anti-stalking measures built-in, but will they actually prevent — or enable — stalkers?

With the launch of AirTags, all Apple devices in the “Find My” network are now participating in a location-aware system that will be used to track these devices.

If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll be discreetly receive what they call an “AirTag Found Moving With You” notification if an AirTag that is not registered under your Apple ID or another iPhone in your vicinity appears to be following you.

If you receive the notification, you can tap into your “Find My” app and play a sound from the AirTag to locate it.

The key phrase above that has people concerned is "or another iPhone in your vicinity."

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The notification only appears if the AirTag's owner isn't nearby in order to prevent you from getting constant notifications every time you happen to pass close to an AirTag owner.

Apple thought of protections for Android users, too. If you’re not an iPhone user and an AirTag has been with you and out of the vicinity of its original owner for three days, it will emit a sound letting you know it's there.

Despite these precautions, many believe AirTags will pose a threat to potential stalking victims.

The company may claim to have covered it all, but three days is a long time for someone to stalk your whereabouts without your knowledge.

Apple appears to misunderstand how exactly stalking happens and who is doing it.

In three out of four cases, stalkers are someone familiar to a victim. And most commonly, they are a current or former partner.

Many people live with their stalker or have to see them regularly, especially if they share children with them.

It's not impossible for stalkers to bypass the three-day safety feature by making sure to be in the vicinity of their AirTag regularly.

Doing so would reset the timer, buying stalkers more time to track someone’s whereabouts.

Similar tracking devices and technological advancements have already made domestic abuse and stalking victims vulnerable.

Rhoberta Shaler, Ph.D., a relationship consultant who works with clients in high-conflict and abusive relationships, tells us, “It is all too common for abusers to use tracking and surveillance devices [in] phones, cars, hidden cameras, and microphones.”

According to researchers, there are at least 200 hundred easily accessible apps and services offering potential stalkers everything from basic location tracking to the ability to harvest texts and even secretly record video.

Two dozen of these apps are explicitly promoted as tools for spying on romantic partners.

Because technology enables discreet, covert stalking, many victims don’t even know they’re being tracked — and this would be the case if AirTags were misused.

This also means law enforcement cannot keep up with the scale of stalking incidents.

It also needs to be said that stalking is often a precursor to homicide. Nearly 76% of women murdered by an intimate partner were stalked first — and 54% of these victims had already reported their stalker to the police.

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The severity of these incidents is already under-acknowledged without Apple making things worse.

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What to do if you find an AirTag that isn’t yours.

Apple has outlined how people can protect themselves if they do find an unknown AirTag in their belongings.

If you come across an AirTag that doesn't belong to you: Hold any phone, tablet, or NFC device to the white side of the AirTag and tap the notification that appears. This will take you to a website with the AirTag’s serial number. If the owner has reported it missing you may be able to contact them.

If you receive a notification saying, “AirTag Found Moving With You”: Tap the message and select “Play Sound” to locate the device. Then, follow the instruction to disable the AirTag.

If you do not own an Apple device and hear an AirTag or find one: You can also hold your device to the tag and follow the instructions above.

Shaler tells us that those in abuse situations who do not realize they are being stalked may be able to infer that they are under surveillance by watching for certain behavioral patterns.

“Usually, the victim can notice the demeanor and questions of the abuser that will indicate their probing for information to validate what they have learned from the devices. More overt, of course, are straight-up accusations and twisted narratives,” she says.

If you find an AirTag and suspect you are in immediate danger, be sure to contact law enforcement.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, help is available. Trained volunteers are available 24/7/365 on the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.