Vice conducted an analysis of records on stalking, harassment, and other incidents involving AirTags in the past eight months from eight police departments. The study revealed that AirTag has become a tool for abusers to stalk or harass women. More importantly, the study also reveals that AirTag’s safety features not only alert the victims that an unknown tracker is traveling with them but also enable them to seek police assistance.
AirTag comes with Find My network support which shows the tracker’s location in real-time. Although Apple intended the device to be used for locating items, security experts feared that it will be misused by abusive partners or spouses to easily track their significant others.
Therefore, to prevent unwanted tracking, Apple introduced several safety features for AirTag which alert iOS users when an unknown tracker is traveling with them via a notification and making a ping sound. Police reports show that these safety features are instrumental in finding the tracker and the suspect.
Although AirTag safety features are great, a more collaborative effort is needed to end stalking
A total of 150 police reports mentioned the use of AirTags in stalking women mostly, in only one case a man was stalked by his ex-girlfriend. In most cases, the abuser was an ex-partner, spouse, boss, or a close acquaintance who had planted an AirTag in the victims’ car.
Of the 150 total police reports mentioning AirTags, in 50 cases women called the police because they started getting notifications that their whereabouts were being tracked by an AirTag they didn’t own. Of those, 25 could identify a man in their lives—ex-partners, husbands, bosses—who they strongly suspected planted the AirTags on their cars in order to follow and harass them. Those women reported that current and former intimate partners—the most likely people to harm women overall—are using AirTags to stalk and harass them.
It was also found that women were tracked by sex traffickers or carjackers. Luckily, all the victims’ were able to find the hidden tracker via iOS alerts or AirTag’s ping and were able to avert any unfortunate incident. That fact made the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin say that AirTag’s security measures are working as intended to provide protection to victims of stalking.
The fact that there are so many reports from people about AirTag stalking means Apple’s security measures, such as the notifications, are working as intended, said Galperin. “It’s not that somebody has randomly found an AirTag. It’s that the anti-stalking mitigations that Apple has implemented are finally working, and the results are that some smaller subset of those people are then going to police,” she said.
“So, yes, we did understand from the very beginning that this was going to be a major problem. But part of it I think is just reflected in the fact that stalking is a major problem. And that having the AirTag alert go off is actually something that a person can bring to the police as solid evidence, which sometimes they otherwise do not have.”
Having said that, the report concludes that a more collaborative effort is required by manufacturers of trackers and law enforcement agencies to tackle the incidents of stalking because for now, Police often do not know how and which law to charge abusers, and Android users are not protected by the same safety features as iOS users are. Albert Fox Cahn, executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project said:
“Police often have no idea how to respond to AirTags, but even if they did, that wouldn’t be a solution,” Cahn said. “We can’t arrest our way out of Apple’s mess. In many jurisdictions, it’s unclear if using AirTags is a crime, and even if it is, mass incarceration is a terrible solution.”
Laws against tracking someone’s location vary from state to state, either as part of stalking laws or specifically in terms of tracking a car without the owner’s consent.”