AirTags, designed to help people track their belongings — to follow her movements. Since their introduction in April 2021, AirTags have been misused by thieves, stalkers and even murderers. Mathias never found an AirTag. But the phone notification she received included a map of her movements over the course of the evening, which disappeared as soon as she changed her phone settings to disable the tracking. Now, a handful of state legislatures are stepping into the ongoing safety debate with legislation designed to fill gaps in their criminal codes revealed by AirTag abuse.
In the meantime, reports of AirTag misuse continue to mount. “It’s incredibly anxiety inducing,” said Mathias. “When you leave your house, when you’re even just at home, because now somebody decided to do this [I have questions like], ‘Do they know where I live?’ I don’t even know how specific AirTags get so I’m like, ‘Do they know my apartment number?’”
AirTag that it should only be used to track their own belongings, making alerts that an AirTag is nearby louder and more noticeable, and notifying a person earlier that an unknown AirTag or other Apple device may be traveling with them. But many of these changes apply only to iPhone users; people who have Android phones must download Apple’s Tracker Detect app to receive alerts about unknown AirTags. Asked by Grid to comment on the issue, an Apple spokesperson referred back to the company’s February statement announcing the safety upgrades.
Danielle Mathias was first unaware that anything was wrong. But a few of weeks ago, following a night out in Washington, D.C., a curious notice appeared on her phone, alerting her that someone was using Apple’s Find My app to track her location, apparently using a set of AirPod headphones. AirPods were not worn by Mathias. But after reading Twitter discussions describing related incidents, she started to believe that someone might have been utilising an alternative Apple product.
Lawmakers in Ohio and New Jersey have introduced bills that would criminalize tracking people unknowingly. Similar draft legislation is circulating in Pennsylvania. But those bills would do little to help people at the time they are being tracked. Previous reports found that at least 19 states currently have explicit laws against electronic tracking.
“Those alerts, and whether it’s the audible tone or they alert to iOS devices, can be helpful in some cases, but it’s clearly not enough to prevent, you know, a lot of the types of harms that can come,” Cahn said. Multiple videos on YouTube lay out instructions for people to alter their AirTags so they don’t make noise, making it harder for targets to detect them. Cahn also noted TikTok videos that are touting AirTags as a way to track down someone to see if they’re cheating.
“Here’s a massive company that is profiting off of this easily abused device and then they’re outsourcing the cost of it to local police departments,” he added. “Clearly, there are other trackers on the market that can also be abused. But you know, this one is cheap, and it works very well globally.”
Mathias said she wishes Apple would try to screen people for a history of abuse before selling them AirTags, and let victims retain information from the device used to follow them — such as a map of where a device started to track them or first connected with their phone, rather than it disappearing once they’ve disabled access.