Unintentionally monitored - Apple's AirTags have a stalker problem

Unintentionally monitored – Apple’s AirTags have a stalker problem

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Apple AirTags are designed to locate lost items. But they can also be used to persecute people.

If you keep misplacing your keys, wallet, or other important items, gadgets like Apple’s AirTags are extremely useful. Because they can be attached to these objects and localized with the help of a smartphone. However, such technology always harbours dangers, especially if it gets into the hands of stalkers.

Actually, Apple has taken precautions for this case, because third-party AirTags are displayed on iPhones with a visual warning to warn a person of unwanted tracking. But that is where the problem lies: This does not work with other smartphones and the AirTag has to report to the monitored person with an acoustic signal. However, it takes hours or even days until this signal is sent.

Problems in the same household

AirTags are very light and have a battery life of up to a year. Therefore, they can easily be hidden in a backpack or jacket for a long time. If the monitored person is regularly in the same household as the owner of the AirTag, the tracker will always connect to their cell phone. No warning appears on the monitored person’s iPhone and the AirTag does not emit any acoustic warning signals.

This only happens when the AirTag has been away from the owner for a long period of time. In the test by heise.de, this took at least three days. But even then, the tracker only sounded the alarm if it was touched or accelerated sharply. It was also tested how long it took for an iPhone to recognize a foreign AirTag and display a warning. This took different lengths of time – from around eight hours to several weeks.

It will also take hours in the future

To counteract this risk, Apple has announced that it is also working on an Android app with which AirTags can be found that are far away from the owner. In addition, the trackers should send an acoustic signal after just eight to 24 hours and not wait three days.

But that is by no means enough, warns IT expert Mirko Dölle from C’t magazine: “A function for actively searching for external tracking devices is not intended for iOS or Android, so AirTags can only be discovered in the future if you have them carried around for hours. ” In addition, it is extremely easy to shut down the AirTags loudspeaker without specific tools.

Dölle shows the specific dangers of such technology: “Anyone who leaves the apartment as a result of domestic violence and seeks refuge must expect to be tracked down by their partner within hours – thanks to an AirTag hidden in their suitcase, handbag or jacket. ” It is, therefore, all the more important that Apple brings a solution to the market as soon as possible for its own system, but also Android devices.

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