Woman describes experience of being tracked with an Apple AirTag

Originally published at: Woman describes experience of being tracked with an Apple AirTag | Boing Boing



Seriously, though; this is awful.

Glad the woman in question was okay.


I’m sure not a single woman on the team mentioned that this was going to happen, either. Apple would never launch something that could be potentially misused after all /s


Not the first incident reported, either:

Credit to @Mindysan33 who posted that here two months ago.


I feel like Early Spiderman cartoons prepared me for this. I’m disappointed they don’t look like little spiders.


I’m guessing at least this many

And yet they’re still selling them!

They are useful. Perhaps too useful. This shit is creeeepy.


I think my outrage filter needs a good cleaning, because while I acknowledge this is horrible, I remember similar things, but undetectable without specialized equipment, being available back in the 90s, using the cell and pager network along with GPS. And, of course, the government has had radio-based trackers, both used and abused, since what, the 50s? Still, good that this is getting some attention, as it seems these things are user friendly and probably soon to be nigh-ubiquitous.


This is the real story with all of these Air Tags freak out posts I’ve been seeing lately. Tracking someone like this has been trivial for years. The reason people are aware of AirTag tracking is because Apple has built functionality in to prevent them being abused. Is the technology being abused? Of course it is. All tech is in some way. But the only reason people are aware of it is that Apple is explicitly telling them.

And yes, I’m aware that Apple leverages iPhones to create a network, but so does Tile and any other tracking device. It’s the nature of the beast.

Edited for clarity.


You mean like Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada, Engineering Program Manager at Apple, who gave the presentation?

But, gee… I wonder:

I have a Tile Slim tracker in my wallet and the only time I remember it’s there is when I can’t find it and use the Tile app on my phone to make it chirp. It’s the size of a credit card and as thick as a few credit cards. The batteries last over a year. It’s good peace-of-mind and insurance at a low price.


It might be even lesser-known that someone can track you with a Tile device, and they don’t have the “someone might be tracking you” feature. Tile has similar network functionality that uses anyone with a Tile app installed or an Amazon Ring device to find a device when it’s out of Bluetooth range. I was able to track a backpack I forgot in a cab this way ~5 years ago.

Maybe the “hey something that’s not yours has been with you for a while” feature should be built into future versions of the bluetooth protocol if possible?


Eeehhhhh, I dunno, man. You’re right trackers have been around forever (as seen in my reply below - one of if not the most popular reply I have had on here), but they are getting cheap and small enough that every one can afford and use one. And with that you are going to get some people using it for stalking or worse.

So it isn’t that this wasn’t a problem before, it is that it is soon to be “nigh-ubiquitous.” Which is pretty terrifying. Sure sure, the government could track you with your cell phone at any time, but most likely they don’t have a reason to do that. Having someone in your life - a jealous partner, an unstable fan - be able to track you could have very bad consequences.


Actually, just the opposite. If she didn’t have an iPhone, the AirTag couldn’t track her at all (unless someone else with an iPhone got close enough to her car for long enough to be detected by the Find My network, which would be intermittent at best).


Apple is, AFAIK, the only company, out of a myriad of companies, like tile, who make trackers, to have even talked about this problem. They had their program manager, who was a woman specifically point out that they had made it possible to find AirTags being misused if they are nearby.

As far as I know, there is no recourse for the many, many other trackers out there to be detected if they are used maliciously. Apple is the only company who has tried to proactively do something about this, and it was important enough to them to have someone mention it, in detail, as part of the launch keynote.

This is one case where Apple is way, way ahead of everyone else. Their decision to provide an Android app after outcry of needing an iPhone to find them shows they’re at least trying to listen and do the right thing here.

I think the govt needs to step in an mandate a way to detect trackers in a consistent way, though - because there are way way way more tile products and other third parties that excited before Apple shine a light on this practice, and no pressure on them - at all - to even attempt the sort of countermeasures Apple has attempted to deploy against stalkers.


I’m also reading about air tags being put on expensive cars so thieves can follow them back to their homes in order to steal the car/rob the house. The stalking is a lot more disturbing, though.


In this case, the police should be able to serve Apple with a warrant and find out who owns the tracker.


Yes, it’s quite brilliant, really. The simple message is, “Buy our product or be hunted down and killed. Or at least have your car stolen.”

Apple deserves praise for their diligent fulfillment of their highest ethical obligation, which is creating value for their shareholders. /s

Good luck with that! The dinosaurs involved don’t understand the technology enough to craft good legislation, IMO. But maybe they could try!

And then we just have to worry about government abuse of them.


Wow, wide swing there, buddy.

What, for instance, is Tile’s solution to this exact same problem? (hint: nothing)

Apple chooses to alert anyone, even non-AirTag users, when they’re being tracked. This functionality is also available (for free), for people who don’t have a single piece of Apple hardware.

Point is, Apple brought this product to market with a solution that no one else has even bothered with. They’re nowhere near the first to deploy trackers, they’re just the first to alert to abuse.

ETA: @orenwolf beat me to it with a more thorough and insightful version of this response. Thanks!


Yeah, or be tracked by a Tile, or other, similar tracker, and be assaulted or have property stolen, and not know a damned thing about it, because no other companies take the trouble, or care, about user safety.
But you know that, having presumably read the other posts to that effect, but prefer to make snarky comments about Apple, because, well, Apple. #rollseyes.


The problem here is that they – Tiles, Apple, Samsung – use different protocols.

I don’t know Tiles’ or Samsung’s implementation, but Apple’s goes something like this:

  • The registering device (i.e. an iPhone) pairs with the AirTag. That’s triggered by NFC, but afterwards is BlueTooth Low Energy.
  • During the process, a private and a public key(set) will get generated.
  • The AirTag will broadcast its public key every 2 seconds, but it will rotate, so it can’t be tracked by a 3rd party.
  • Any particiopating iOS device seeing this key will use this to encode the time and GPS coordinates and send it to to Apple , piggybacking on other communication channels like Push Notification, iCloud, syncing, etc. So Apple doesn’t actually know where and when a given AirTag was last seen.
  • They do know weither an AirTag is in the vicinity of its iPhone – that’s what the owning iPhones send.
  • They return that information to the sender . They now know that an AirTag is around them, though only the “the owner isn’t nearby” or “this Tag was marked as lost” is of interest to the 3rd party.
  • If an “orphaned” AirTag is following you, your iPhone will warn you.

So all this depends on Apple’s protocol, which well above the BTLE protocol, layer wise.

Samsung doesn’t have anything like this, that’s why they haphazardly announced their own tracking warn app after the SmartTag’s launch, probably when they heard about Apple’s anti-stalking (insufficient as they may be) efforts.

It’s not like you have to be a woman to see the potential abuse, it kinda sprang to my mind when I heard first about Apple AirTags, months before their official announcement. Because now even a helpful social worker setting up an appointment at a women’s shelter can now unknowingly become a snitch. I was kinda pleasantly surprised that Apple had thought of this at all.

Adding: When AirTag came out, I did some checking about how to expose them. Because far too many people misunderstand them as anti-theft devices. They are actually rather easy to find if you know what you are doing, since they broadcast so often.

Next time you are in a public environment, fire up a BT scanner like Light Blue – there are literally dozens in all the stores. These days, where there are people, there are dozens of devices around you. all merrily broadcasting their thing. Finding out where they are by tracking signal thing is tedious, but actually easy. You want to steal a bike? Disable your smartphones’ reporting, put it in a van. Drive to public place., open the door. Then close the door and get the hell out of the city to an empty parking lot and simply scan at your leisure.