When Apple AirTags launched, the handy little tracking devices became someone of an instant hit. They offered healthy completion to another popular tracking device, Tile. They also served as the perfect tracking solution for someone already integrated into Apple’s ecosystem. These little coin-sized pucks are perfect for keeping tabs on luggage, keys, and any other item that may be prone to getting lost. And at only $29 each, purchasing an AirTag was likely a no-brainer for many. The thing is, soon after their launch reports began to surface about people abusing an AirTag’s functionality for much more nefarious purposes. The Vice detailed that police reports show that AirTags are being used, on numerous occasions, to stalk women.
Through examining a total of 150 police reports pertaining to AirTags obtained by Motherboard, The Vice determined that a staggering 1/3 of those reports were filed by women who were allegedly being stalked by means of an AirTag that had been planted somewhere on their person. Of the 50 reports made by the women who felt they were being targeted by a stalker using an AirTag, half of them believed their assailants to be former lovers. In some cases, the women confronted their alleged stalkers and became victims of domestic abuse as a result.
More concerning still is the potential for instances with AirTags being used as trackers to escalate. This is particularly concerning if you are looking at it from a domestic violence lens. In these cases, AirTags are serving as a conduit for a domestic abuser to continue to exercise control over their victim.
In a situation where the victim chooses to confront her abuser as a result of AirTag tracking, the situation could easily escalate from bad to worse. Speaking about Apple and the launch of AirTags, Eva Galperin, who is a cybersecurity director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says “That was a completely ridiculous way to launch a new device, without having taken into account its use in a domestic violence situation.”
Abusers exercising control over their victims is a pertinent problem, and, unfortunately, AirTags are only serving as means to further exacerbate it. “Stalking and stalkerware existed before AirTags, but Apple made it cheaper and easier than ever for abusers and attackers to track their targets,” Albert Fox Cahn told those who obtained the police reports at Motherboard. Cahn is the executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. The Project is one that aims to intercept instances when technology is being used with vile intentions or purposes.
It is important that instances where AirTags are being used as means to facilitate the continuing of a domestic violence situation be given a spotlight. To date, much of the news coverage surrounding malicious uses of AirTags has been largely focused on the potentiality for them to be used by thieves. For instance, NBC News covered a story where AirTags were thought to have aided in the execution of a crime.
The good news is, is that Apple has been putting additional safeguards in place since the reports have surfaced. They introduced an update that essentially disables the AirTag if it hasn’t been in a certain proximately of its owner for a certain amount of time. The company also released an app for Android Users, so they too can determine whether any AirTags are in or around their area. The intent there is to make it easier for Android users who suspect that someone is tracking them via an AirTag to determine whether or not that is the case.
One final takeaway to be aware of though, is that while AirTags have largely been the focal point of the problem with tracking devices being abused, the problem as a whole is not solely an AirTags problem. All tracking devices, Apple-branded or not, have the same potential to be exploited for nefarious purposes.