AirTags – You might have come upon this post and wondered–What is an “Airtag”? Why is there a post about them on this blog?
Have you ever misplaced your keys and wished that you could call them or use an app to track where they are—much in the way you might go about locating a misplaced cellphone by calling it or using a “Find My App”?
Enter the AirTag. Released by Apple in April 2021, this device can help users keep track of personal items like keys, wallets, and purses, using the “Find My“ app.
After an AirTag is attached to a personal item—such as backpacks, luggage, and keys—a user can use the Find My App on an Apple device with iOS 14.5 and MacOS 11.3 or later to locate it.
An AirTag emits a continuous Bluetooth signal to notify nearby Apple gadgets on the Find My network of its presence. These gadgets, such as nearby Macs, iPhones, and iPads, can relay to Apple where they encountered an AirTag. When the AirTag is not near its owner, its approximate location might be available if it is within range of a device in the Find My Network.
AirTags are not GPS devices, so they won’t tell you the exact location of the item. They also require someone with an Apple gadget, on the Find My Network, to be within the range of the item or close enough to hear the noise being emitted.
While a potentially helpful technology, AirTags can become problematic when they are used for purposes they were not designed for. AirTags were designed to help people locate misplaced objects, but were not designed to track other people without their consent. In fact, it is against the law to use AirTags for this purpose. There can be major legal consequences for doing so. In fact, Americans have been arrested for using an Apple Air Tag to stalk their former spouse or partner.
Two “real life” examples:
In February 2022, New York Times tech reporter Kashmir Hill reported on her experience using AirTags, Tiles, and a GPS to track her husband with his consent.
In June 2022, Irish actor and author Hannah Rose May reported that she had been tracked by an AirTag while at Disneyland.
In divorce cases, this new technology may raise alarms since one spouse (or both) may try to track or stalk the other spouse.
There isn’t a definitive playbook of what to do if you suspect you are being stalked or tracked by someone, including your former spouse. This is particularly the case when it comes to AirTags, as they are a new form of technology.
Reports of people being stalked using AirTags suggest that it is an important matter to be mindful of. While you shouldn’t be fearful of it at all times or let it dictate your day, it is important to be conscious of the signs of AirTag stalking and be familiar with ways to respond.
First, familiarize yourself with how an AirTag looks like and the sound it makes to alert people of its presence.
Keep in mind the anti-stalking measures Apple has implemented–though they are not foolproof.
An AirTag that doesn’t connect with its owner within a three day period will be disabled. However, this doesn’t help if the owner is in physical proximity to the AirTag every few days.
Users with iPhones running at least iOS 14.5 or iPads running at least iPadOS 14.5 (with the correct settings on) will be notified if an AirTag is separated from its owner and is moving with them over time. Android users don’t automatically receive these notifications. However, the Track Detect app looks for item trackers within Bluetooth range that are separated from their owner and compatible with Apple’s Find My network. It is worth noting the app only works if it is open.
Apple’s website provides information on what to do if you get an alert that an AirTag, Find My network accessory or set of AirPods is with you. (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212227)
Apple advises to contact law enforcement, but it is crucial that you proceed cautiously for your own safety. If the offender sees the AirTag at a police station, it might escalate the situation and make the situation even more dangerous. Another option is to find a public place to contact police by phone and have an officer meet you there rather than the police station. You should document the incident by taking screenshots and photos and writing notes.
When an AirTag is away from its owner for three days, it emits a noise in the hope it will be located. The owner can also set off the noise manually by using the Find My App on an iPhone, Mac or on iCloud.com.
If you hear an AirTag making a sound, you can use a NFC-enabled device, such as an iPhone or Android phone, to see if the owner marked it as lost. Scanning the AirTag with a NFC-enabled device will also provide instructions on how to disable the AirTag by removing the battery if you have concerns that it is being used to track you or someone else without consent. Disabling the AirTags stops updating the location of the device, but sends an alert to the AirTag’s owner—which could create a dangerous situation for the person being stalked. Law enforcement agencies have also warned that removing the battery may contaminate the AirTag as evidence.
It is a bit trickier to determine who the AirTag belongs to. Each AirTag has its own serial number and it is paired with an Apple ID. You can locate the serial number yourself (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211658), however, you can’t determine who owns it by looking the number up yourself. However, in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement, Apple can reveal the account the AirTag is paired with.
There are important legal considerations to keep in mind if you plan on using AirTags. They should not be used to track property that doesn’t belong to you and they should not be used to track people. Remember, using AirTags, Airpods or Find My network accessory to track people without their consent is a crime in many countries—including the United States.
If you are getting divorced and have concerns about being stalked or tracked, you should speak to your attorney who can provide advice on what you should do.
There are also a few additional precautions you might take. Be mindful of your phone notifications. When your phone is bombarded with alerts for texts, emails, calendar events, among other things, it can be easy to overlook an AirTag alert. Consequently, you might consider prioritizing alerts that help protect your safety and turning off ones that might be distracting. If you have an Android, consider downloading Tracker Detect. In addition, regularly check places you think someone might hide an AirTag—such as a purse, briefcase, backpack, car, or pockets.