Apple’s AirTags are being used to steal possessions hijack cars, and even to follow people home. So I’m going to explain everything you need to know. So just in case, you didn’t know, Apple released AirTags in 2021. They’re tiny little chips that you can attach to all of your key belongings to track where they are. And they’re pretty phenomenal, only costs $29. Well, you can get a four-pack to 99 which makes them 25 a pop. They are extremely discreet, can attach to almost anything, and fits almost anywhere. And most importantly, they can track across the globe with almost pinpoint accuracy.
Problem with AirTags?
Here’s the problem though. All the things that make AirTag the perfect tool to keep track of your belongings, also make an enticing for criminals. Now, you could argue all the problems people are facing with this AirTags stand from how they are made. See they might look like a simple plastic and steel button, but inside it is a speaker and Antennae Bluetooth, Apple’s U1 chip, Apple’s custom-made U1 chipset, and replaceable battery. And you might be thinking I didn’t mention GPS. Surely it uses GPS. That’s how you get location data right? But no, the reason Apple has managed to make AirTags so inexpensive, and the reason that this one battery can push out an entire year of continuous use is that these AirTags don’t need to communicate with the networks directly.
How AirTags can be used to track your devices?
They built to piggyback off the GPS signal of other Apple products. All the AirTags need to do is to send out a continuous Bluetooth signal and the Bluetooth signal can be picked up by not just your iPhone and your Mac book ut, anyone’s iPhone or Mac book. So whichever Apple device is closest to it, it will use that device’s location to figure out where it is and then use that devices’ signal to send that info back to you.
So let’s say that I’m walking around with my AirTag in one hand, and my iPhone in the other. Because there’s an iPhone right next to it, this AirTag will always be displaying its exact location using that iPhone signal. But even if I’m using an Android device, the tracking still works because every time I come within about 30 feet of even someone else’s Apple device, I will be able to use that to update my position. So I’m walking past the building, for example, There’s a pretty good chance that on the other side of that wall there is someone using an Apple product and that’s all it needs.
So, hopefully, you are trying to see why AirTags are becoming such a controversy. Imagine this scenario you’ve spent your whole life working so that you can afford to buy yourself a really nice car, but one day you’re driving this nice car around and someone else decides they really like it too. So they grab an AirTag and stick it into your car exhaust and then all of a sudden theoretically for up to a year because that’s how long the battery lasts, they will be able to see exactly which shops you’re going into, which restaurants are eating in, and most importantly where you live and where you park this extremely nice valuable vehicle. And think how easy is it to slap one of these on a car. You can put one anywhere on the car. It might as well be invisible.
And also remember that as someone approaches an AirTag that they’ve planted it’s not just that they can use Bluetooth technology to get a rough area that it’s in. They can use ultra-wideband technology. Thanks for the U1 chip on this AirTag to literally get pointed directions right up until they are on top of it.
This is actually happening. People reported finding AirTags inside their vehicles, behind their number plates, and probably the most disturbing even in their coat pockets after walking home at night.
What Apple is doing to improve AirTags?
Now they have been updating AirTags with features to try and prevent them from being used maliciously, and these features do limit what could have otherwise been a bit of a privacy nightmare. For example, if an AirTag has been separated from the account that is registered to, then at some random time between 8 and 24 hours after that separation happens, it will now start using the inbuilt speaker continuously. So if someone is being unknowingly stored, then this will obviously draw their attention to that fact. It’s a great attempt by Apple, but it’s not really a solution because would you believe it?
People are now selling silent AirTags which have had their speakers removed, but also if you randomly find an AirTag that you don’t recognize, you could hold it against the back of almost any smartphone and it will show you the serial number of it. This means even though it’s not exactly going to give you their full name login details, there is some traceability in the system. Plus if have an iPhone and someone is tracking you because your iPhone will be the device that is giving the AirTag its location, it will eventually realize that the AirTag has been following you for a while and so can send you a notification just to let you know.
How you can be safe with these AirTags?
If you do get these notifications though, the official advice is to not go home. Because it will lead whoever is following you right to your doorstep. Instead try to go to the Police Station, try to find the tracker, and hand it to them, so hopefully they can work with Apple to find out who put it in the first place.
And let’s say get these notifications while walking alone, then immediately stop what you’re doing and check your pockets. And if you happen to find an AirTag on you, then remove the battery by twisting the back cover and taking it out. That way you can kind of stop the tracking in action, but it also means you can keep the AirTag to then report it to the police.
But okay, all this leads us to the big question, this whole tracker scandal, who is actually to blame? This is scary stuff, yes, but the truth is, item trackers existed way before Apple made one. Tile has been making it since 2012 and to be honest, their trackers don’t have as many safety features as Apple’s do. But I guess the reason the AirTags, in particular, is causing such a particular stir are two things.
- The fact that, unlike Tile whose tags can access a web of say 30 million total devices to report their location with, Apple’s AirTags can access a finding network of every Apple device in existence. So 1.5 billion devices make them shockingly accurate and improve all time as more people enter the Apple ecosystem.
- And the fact that Whilst professional tracking gear has been available for ages. Apple has brought that level of precision to entry-level price points. They’ve made it incredibly easy for someone to track you. And they’re popularizing a genre of gadgets for which malicious use is prolific.
So one hand yes, this whole stalking issue wouldn’t have been this much of a problem if Apple hadn’t entered the market, but then it is their fault that their products do a better job than others.
So this was the article for today. I hope you get to learn something. And remember if you have an AirTag, be safe!!
Thank you for reading this article!!