Creeps could use AirTags to stalk people with ‘frightening’ ease

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Stalkers won‘t be able to track victims via hidden AirTags
The dangers of location-tracking.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

It it “frighteningly easy” to use Apple’s location-tracking AirTag to stalk somebody, a new report suggests.

While Apple says it’s been careful to incorporate anti-stalking measures to stop the AirTags from being used in this way, a Washington Post columnist says Apple’s countermeasures are not effective.

Geoffrey Fowler writes that he allowed a colleague at the paper to track him for a week by placing an AirTag in his backpack. When he was out cycling, the AirTag allowed his location to be tracked within half a block. When he returned home, the device gave his “stalker” the exact address.

Apple’s anti-stalker features

Apple worked to come up with solutions for this scenario. But Fowler wasn’t won over by them. He explains the problem:

“An AirTag starts a three-day countdown clock on its alarm as soon as it’s out of the range of the iPhone it’s paired with. Since many victims live with their abusers, the alert countdown could be reset each night when the owner of the AirTag comes back into its range …

Also troubling: There’s an option in the Find My app to turn off all of these ‘item safety alerts’ — and adjusting it doesn’t require entering your PIN or password. People in abusive situations don’t always have total control over their phones.”

As a result, it’s possible the alarm could never go off. Things could be even tougher for Android users, who could be tracked without getting the alerts that this was happening on their phones. While AirTags come with a built-in speaker, it’s small — and could potentially be disabled or muffled. Fowler said that an AirTag alert amounts to “just 15 seconds of light chirping” at 60 decibels.

Apple isn’t the only company making location-tracking Bluetooth devices, of course. Others like Tile have been working in this space for a long time. And Apple took precautions to counter the threat of AirTags being used for stalking, which could be built upon in future upgrades or software updates.

Still, it’s definitely something that needs to be taken seriously. Any kind of location-tracking tech has the potential to be used for harm as well as good. As potential problems are discovered, hopefully the right steps will be taken to rectify them.

Source: Washington Post (paywall)