The AirTag stalking problem is only partially Apple's problem, it's mostly law enforcement...

Posted:
in General Discussion edited December 2021
Apple's AirTags are being used for stalking, but the problem isn't new, nor remotely exclusive to Apple -- and is easier to execute undetected with other inexpensive methods. The real issue is the overall failure of law enforcement to act.

Apple AirTag
Apple AirTag


Reports of AirTags being used to stalk people don't give a full picture of the dangers of "stalkerware," and the reports often shift blame entirely onto Apple.

Apple isn't the only one whose tracking devices can facilitate stalking, it's just the highest profile vendor to provide tracking tools.

In most cases, the issue is law enforcement. Despite Apple cooperating readily with law enforcement to find a perpetrator, police departments are mostly failing to take seriously reports of stalking revealed by an AirTag's safety mechanisms.

Here's some additional context for the discussion.

Reports of Apple AirTag stalking

While AirTags can be used to locate stolen or lost property, the small devices are also being used to stalk people and track vehicles for later theft.

A Dec. 30 report from The New York Times contains reports from at least seven women who believe they were tracked with AirTags. Earlier in December, police in Canada issued a warning that thieves were using the Apple tracking accessory in the theft of high-end vehicles.

Specifically, they had five reports of possible AirTag involvement, out of more than 2,000 reports in total.

In the stalking cases, the victims discovered they were apparently being tracked because of Apple's anti-stalking features, which include mechanisms that notify iPhone users if they're being "followed" by an unknown accessory. AirTags also beep regularly once separated from the device to which they are paired -- but in our testing, this could be much louder.

However, AirTags are small and can be hard to find. Some reports of AirTag-stalking indicate that victims are unable to locate an AirTag after they're alerted to its presence.

According to Electronic Frontier Foundation cybersecurity director Eva Galperin, AirTags are "uniquely harmful" because the system uses Apple products -- even ones you don't own -- for granular and precise location tracking. Because Apple devices are ubiquitous, AirTags have a large network to leverage.

However, that one specific quirk of AirTags isn't the only difference between the Apple tracking accessory and other products. And, a larger platform for tracking is the LTE network itself, which is leveraged by hundreds of standalone products, priced similarly to AirTags.

And those product don't have any anti-stalking mechanisms, at all. Or, for that matter, any real way to detect or find them.

AirTags aren't the problem

It would be a mistake to assume that these reports signal a new wave of stalking. AirTags, while inexpensive and effective, are not solely responsible for ushering in a new era of surreptitious surveillance.

Take, for example, GPS-based stalkers. GPS-based tracking devices are readily available -- even on Amazon -- and can be used to stalk victims without the anti-stalking mechanisms that Apple's devices provide.

Tile products are similarly as common as AirTags, but don't have any anti-stalking features as of writing.
Tile products are similar and as common as AirTags, but don't have any anti-stalking features as of writing.


The primary competitor of AirTags, accessories made by Tile, don't have the anti-stalking features yet. Those are coming in early 2022, the company says.

In fact, reports of AirTag-enabled stalking stem from the anti-stalking features that Apple has included. Without a notification alerting them to the covert tracking, stalking victims of a different $30 tracker would have no idea that they were being followed.

This is not an absolution of Apple's responsibility in deterring stalking, and we think that Apple has a moral obligation to go a bit farther. A much more important issue, and a deeper moral imperative, is getting law enforcement to take the anti-stalking alerts seriously.

Apple and Law enforcement

Some police stations are taking this seriously, and following-through on the notifications and astray AirTags. That's good, and the way it should be. It appears that most aren't, though.

In an ideal scenario, an AirTag stalking victim would be able to call law enforcement or go to a police station, show them their anti-stalking notification, and get the help they need on the spot. Once a victim is safe, police could get the tracker information they need from Apple to pay a visit to the owner.

However, most police departments haven't caught up.

Across several cases in California, stalking victims were told by law enforcement that their anti-stalking notifications were non-emergencies. One woman was told that she needed to bring the AirTag with her to the station -- which is the right thing to do.

Another said that the police told her that Apple's notifications weren't enough evidence -- and that she could only file a report if someone showed up at her home. This is dangerous and irresponsible, given that Apple can and will respond to law enforcement requests for information about who owns the AirTag in question.

Using 19th or 20th century techniques isn't how to deal with potential stalking cases in the 21st century. This type of lackadaisical response from law enforcement puts people at risk.

There's an argument to be made that most local police departments don't have the resources to investigate every instance of electronically enabled stalking. At the very least, however, law enforcement has a responsibility to take stalking allegations seriously and take five minutes out of their busy day to contact Apple about it.

This doesn't even require a visit to Cupertino. There is a portal for law enforcement to issue requests and file subpoenas. And, Apple typically responds within 24 hours.

Solutions

The onus of security should not have to be on victims of stalking, but you should know how to protect yourself. The answer is not to smash the tag with a hammer.

If you own an iPhone, update to the latest iOS and take anti-stalking notifications seriously. If you have an Android, download Apple's "Tracker Detect" app so you can detect unwanted AirTags.

Finding a solution to AirTag and other types of electronic stalking will be a joint effort.
Finding a solution to AirTag and other types of electronic stalking will be a joint effort.


If you find an AirTag that has been planted on you or your vehicle, take the battery out. Then call law enforcement, and hope that they're willing to help you. Hope shouldn't be required for victims of stalking either.

Apple, for its part, should continue to refine its anti-stalking mechanisms. Reducing the timeframe for unwanted accessory alerts is a start, and so is turning up the volume on the separated AirTag automatic beep. Giving users an option to see unwanted accessories in an AR view could make finding and disposing of unwanted AirTags much easier.

It's also up to manufacturers of third-party tracking devices to issue their own anti-stalking mechanisms. Tile is working on their own safety features, but any producer of location-tracking devices should be required to implement anti-stalking features.

Police departments should also allocate some resources to dealing with electronic stalking, given that GPS trackers have been in the field and used by miscreants for almost 20 years. At the very least, they should be prepared to receive discovered AirTags from victims, contact Apple about the owner, and hold them as evidence.

The solution to AirTag stalking -- or any type of stalking -- isn't going to be deployed by one single entity. It'll take a joint effort to put an end to it, or at least, make it much more difficult to pull off.

Read on AppleInsider
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,522member
    Thanks for this clear-headed article that succinctly outlines the problem and solution(s), Mike.

    It is infuriating when other media (including some Apple-oriented sites that really should know better) report stories on this and pretend as though Tile (still no anti-tracking features) has never existed. Indeed, Tile has just become a stalker's best friend -- having been bought by data collection company Life360! The anti-Apple slant of this reporting may actually be giving people the false impression that their non-Apple tracker stuff is safer/better when in fact that's the opposite!
    williamlondonviclauyyclkruppwatto_cobraStrangeDaysstompyblastdoor
  • Reply 2 of 52
    Only the stupidest of stalkers would use an Air Tag. 

    GPS cellular trackers are the smart stalkers tool.
    watto_cobrablastdoor
  • Reply 3 of 52
    XedXed Posts: 1,475member
    This is both amazing and not at all unexpected. As soon as Apple announced AirTags with anti-stalking features we know that they'd be pegged as allowing stalking with hardly any other media outlet detailing how this problem has existed as long as geolocation-based devices have existed, but that doesn't matter so long as the porverbial messenger gets blamed for it by trying to curtail it.

    Good article, AI.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 52
    XedXed Posts: 1,475member
    Only the stupidest of stalkers would use an Air Tag. 

    GPS cellular trackers are the smart stalkers tool.
    While I don't want to support Tile—especially after their sale to Life360—I wouldn't mind finding some used Tiles (i.e.: no money goes to Tile) with the replaceable batteries to use in my vehicles so that a thief won't get alerted that I'm tracking my own property.
    watto_cobrablastdoor
  • Reply 5 of 52
    As a victim myself of malignant narcissist psychopaths there are no modern laws on the books that can keep up with manipulators. AirTags are a problem but manipulators use so many different ways to stalk you most people have no idea. If you get a restraining order they can ask or hire someone else to stalk you. Technology is just one of many ways stalkers can find out where you are. Laws need to change. 
    williamlondonseanjravnorodomwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 52
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 10,022member
    I’ve been waiting for the first class action lawsuit to be filed by ‘victims’ of AirTag stalking. Why hasn’t it happened yet?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 52
    Android users shouldn't use "Tracker Detect" as it doesn't support background scanning like an iPhone does. 

    AirGuard albeit unofficial actually works way better.
  • Reply 8 of 52
    chasm said:
    Thanks for this clear-headed article that succinctly outlines the problem and solution(s), Mike.

    It is infuriating when other media (including some Apple-oriented sites that really should know better) report stories on this and pretend as though Tile (still no anti-tracking features) has never existed. Indeed, Tile has just become a stalker's best friend -- having been bought by data collection company Life360! The anti-Apple slant of this reporting may actually be giving people the false impression that their non-Apple tracker stuff is safer/better when in fact that's the opposite!
    To be fair, when Apple released other products or features while other companies have released comparable products or features, those rarely get accomplishment.

    I guess what I'm saying is no one seems to notice until Apple does it. This is just the first time that bias has bitten Apple.
  • Reply 9 of 52
    Maybe Apple should ‘tie’ the AirTags to a verified Apple ID. That way it should be an easier way to track back the perp ?
    watto_cobraMplsP
  • Reply 10 of 52
    It would be nice that if in the Find My app, you can detect the location of a stalking tag. That way if one was planted, it can easily be retrieved, deactivated and brought to law enforcement. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 52
    XedXed Posts: 1,475member
    It would be nice that if in the Find My app, you can detect the location of a stalking tag. That way if one was planted, it can easily be retrieved, deactivated and brought to law enforcement. 
    That is also a solution with a downside. Using it to track your backpack, wallet, luggage, automobile, pet, etc. means that a thief will then easily be able to locate the AirTag and remove it (or set it to factory settings to use or sell) thus reducing one of the benefits of putting a tracker on your property in the first place. Some of those are easily enough to figure out if stolen since the places are limited, but an automobile might be dumped if an AirTag notifies that it's with vehicle if the thief can't use UWB to quickly find and dispose of it. Maybe Apple's current solution—while not perfect for all needs—is about as perfect as it gets.
    williamlondonwatto_cobraFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 12 of 52
    geekmeegeekmee Posts: 587member
    First level headed article I’ve seen. All the reports I’ve seen, it was never clarified if the person reporting the stalking was an actual 
    AirTag owner, meaning the Anti-Stalking feature of their own device may be what they are reporting. 
    I am sure Apple would rather be too aggressive with their Anti-Stalking feature, then suffer the damage of one case.
    Stalking certainly didn’t start with AirTags.
    Reports, as I specified before, are not actual stalking incidents.
    There are too many variables in the mix… including Click-Bait.
    edited January 1 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 52
    geekmeegeekmee Posts: 587member
    Maybe Apple should ‘tie’ the AirTags to a verified Apple ID. That way it should be an easier way to track back the perp ?
    I am sure it already does. Who has found an actual AirTag and turned it in to law enforcement? To turn into Apple??
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 52
    seanjseanj Posts: 298member
    a) Apple gets all the blame simply because journalists don’t bother to investigate the issue properly. It’s not really an anti-Apple thing.

    b) Police are pretty busier at the best of times, even without the extra work due to the pandemic. Apple, as the inventor of the technology should make it as easy as possible to identify cases and automatically provide evidence of the required standard.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 15 of 52
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,514administrator
    chasm said:
    Thanks for this clear-headed article that succinctly outlines the problem and solution(s), Mike.

    It is infuriating when other media (including some Apple-oriented sites that really should know better) report stories on this and pretend as though Tile (still no anti-tracking features) has never existed. Indeed, Tile has just become a stalker's best friend -- having been bought by data collection company Life360! The anti-Apple slant of this reporting may actually be giving people the false impression that their non-Apple tracker stuff is safer/better when in fact that's the opposite!
    To be fair, when Apple released other products or features while other companies have released comparable products or features, those rarely get accomplishment.

    I guess what I'm saying is no one seems to notice until Apple does it. This is just the first time that bias has bitten Apple.
    It's not even close to the first time.
    hammeroftruthGeorgeBMacwatto_cobraMplsPStrangeDaysstompyroundaboutnowblastdoorFileMakerFellerjony0
  • Reply 16 of 52
    Maybe if the police stopped spending time on non-violent marijuana arrests and other non-addictive drugs, they would have the resources to go after more legitimate police work like finding stalkers.

    The anti-stalking features in the AirTags are just highlighting how big of an existing problem we already had with other devices that don’t carry these features.
    edited January 1 watto_cobraurahara
  • Reply 17 of 52
    We have got ourselves some apple lovers here. While I agree that the media probably wants to make a story of this more than investigate the matter, this device apple made is dangerous. It leverages the entire apple ecosystem! You know, those 1 billion devices. What other device can tap into that? It's $30. Discreet. It has been shown that it's firmware can be hacked. Apple has released several new security measures since it came out. Why?? Cause it's so freaking easy to use it to track people. All I gotta do is go to Target. Yah it's tied to my ID but if I'm a stalker I don't care. Don't blame this on law enforcement. They were blindsided by a tracker expertly crafted by one the world's most capable companies. Wtf, mate? 
    PobritowilliamlondongatorguyMplsPmike54
  • Reply 18 of 52
    XedXed Posts: 1,475member
    stevebobs said:
    We have got ourselves some apple lovers here. While I agree that the media probably wants to make a story of this more than investigate the matter, this device apple made is dangerous. It leverages the entire apple ecosystem! You know, those 1 billion devices. What other device can tap into that? It's $30. Discreet. It has been shown that it's firmware can be hacked. Apple has released several new security measures since it came out. Why?? Cause it's so freaking easy to use it to track people. All I gotta do is go to Target. Yah it's tied to my ID but if I'm a stalker I don't care. Don't blame this on law enforcement. They were blindsided by a tracker expertly crafted by one the world's most capable companies. Wtf, mate? 
    Apple includes an anti-stalking feature to their AirTags = Apple bad
    No one else has this feature despite cheap and simple easy to track people without their knowledge has existed for long time = It's still Apple's fault

    🙄
    the1maximuswatto_cobracharlesatlasStrangeDaysmacxpressstompyroundaboutnowFileMakerFellerjony0
  • Reply 19 of 52
    stevebobs said:
    We have got ourselves some apple lovers here. While I agree that the media probably wants to make a story of this more than investigate the matter, this device apple made is dangerous. It leverages the entire apple ecosystem! You know, those 1 billion devices. What other device can tap into that? It's $30. Discreet. It has been shown that it's firmware can be hacked. Apple has released several new security measures since it came out. Why?? Cause it's so freaking easy to use it to track people. All I gotta do is go to Target. Yah it's tied to my ID but if I'm a stalker I don't care. Don't blame this on law enforcement. They were blindsided by a tracker expertly crafted by one the world's most capable companies. Wtf, mate? 
    Quite the narrative you've cooked up here, but given you've labelled the site full of fanboys, not surprising really. [rolls eyes]
    anantksundaramwatto_cobrauraharacharlesatlasStrangeDaysstompymacxpressroundaboutnowjony0
  • Reply 20 of 52
    Xed said:
    stevebobs said:
    We have got ourselves some apple lovers here. While I agree that the media probably wants to make a story of this more than investigate the matter, this device apple made is dangerous. It leverages the entire apple ecosystem! You know, those 1 billion devices. What other device can tap into that? It's $30. Discreet. It has been shown that it's firmware can be hacked. Apple has released several new security measures since it came out. Why?? Cause it's so freaking easy to use it to track people. All I gotta do is go to Target. Yah it's tied to my ID but if I'm a stalker I don't care. Don't blame this on law enforcement. They were blindsided by a tracker expertly crafted by one the world's most capable companies. Wtf, mate? 
    Apple includes an anti-stalking feature to their AirTags = Apple bad
    No one else has this feature despite cheap and simple easy to track people without their knowledge has existed for long time = It's still Apple's fault

    🙄
    I mean I'm not super passionate about this argument. I don't know if actual criminals will ever figure out a way to gainfully jailbreak airtags.

    But one thing to consider, I have no idea how or where I could buy a good stalking device. Like I know tile is an alternative but I think we airtags and the kind of devices this thread is referring to are much more capable. 

    But buying an airtag is easy. Yah dedicated criminals had access to these tools for a long time. But your regular dumb, jealous, angry, or resentful average person wants convenience. Airtags give them incredible convenience. Yah anybody can make em. But only apple has the ubiqituous network that enables such accurate tracking. 


    gatorguyMplsPOfermike54
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