Following recent reports of Apple’s AirTag being used with malicious intent, a story from the New York Times offers an in-depth view into the situation. A report secretly tracked her husband with different trackers including Apple’s AirTag. Her investigation revealed that although the Cupertino tech giant’s tracking device does have privacy concerns, similar devices on the market may be worse.
Privacy dangers of Tile and GPS trackers ‘way worse’ than AirTag
Kashmir Hill writing for the New York Times decided to investigate claims that Apple does not offer enough safety protections with AirTag.
I decided to examine both claims by planting three AirTags, three Tiles, and a GPS tracker on my husband and his belongings to see how precisely they revealed his movements and which ones he discovered.
Hill learned that the GPS tracker was better than AirTag and Tile in areas that were not populated densely. Notably, the AirTag’s effectiveness “skyrocketed the day my husband traveled to New York City, because he was surrounded by people carrying iPhones.”
Hill notes that the AirTag privacy feature did work, to an extent. Within two hours of filling their car with trackers, her husband received an alert on his iPhone informing him of an unknown AirTag moving with him but it could not be identified.
The problem was that he couldn’t find it. The alert said he could make the AirTag play a sound, but when he attempted to do so, his phone wouldn’t connect to the device. This happened multiple times, and he started to get frustrated. “Is it in my shoe?” he asked me at one point, taking his blue Nike off and peering at it. “You have to tell me. I don’t want to destroy my shoe looking for it.”
The one time his iPhone connected to the AirTag in the car, so he could play the noise, it was so hard to tell where it was coming from that he gave up looking for it after five minutes.
On the other hand, Tile did not present any warning or alerts. Hill concludes that Apple’s security measures for AirTag are not foolproof but it is a step about Tile trackers and the specialized GPS tracking device.
The Tile tracker was not quite as well-informed. Its system is similar to Apple’s but far fewer people have the Tile app on their phones than own Apple devices. Forty million Tiles have been sold, the company said last year.
Another key difference between Tile and AirTag is that if an iPhone detects an unknown AirTag continuously moving with it, the iPhone owner gets a notification, along with a map showing where the tracking started. (Android owners, meanwhile, have to download a special app to look for AirTags. Tile said it planned to release a similar app for people worried about unwanted tracking.)
“For all the bad press the AirTags have gotten, and as flaky as the detection mechanisms were, at least I was consistently getting notifications they were following me,” Hill’s husband said. “The privacy dangers of the other trackers were way worse.”
This week, Apple published a new article on the updates it has already introduced to prevent unwarranted tracking via AirTag and has also announced several new anti-stalking features coming later this year including Precision Finding for unknown AirTags, display alerts with sound, and more.