At first, Danielle Mathias had no idea anything was wrong.
But after an evening in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, a strange notification popped up on her phone — warning her that someone was using Apple’s Find My app to track her location, apparently on AirPods headphones. through a pair of
Mathias didn’t have an AirPod. But after reading Twitter threads detailing similar cases, she began to suspect that someone was using a different Apple product — AirTag, designed to help people track their belongings. so that its activities may be followed. Since their introduction in April 2021, Airtags have been misused by thieves, stalkers and even killers.
Mathias never got the airtag. But the phone information he received included a map of his movements during the evening, which disappeared as soon as he changed his phone settings to disable tracking. Now, a handful of state legislatures are stepping into the ongoing security debate with legislation designed to fill gaps in their criminal codes revealed by the misuse of airtags. Ohio and New Jersey lawmakers have introduced bills that would criminalize unintentional tracking of people. Similar draft legislation is circulating in Pennsylvania. But those bills would do little to help people while they were being tracked. Previous reports found that at least 19 states currently have clear laws against electronic tracking.
Apple has tried to make it harder to abuse AirTag in this way. It announced a set of security-related upgrades in February — including a message warning anyone who installed an AirTag that it should only be used to track their own baggage, alerting that An AirTag is louder and more noticeable nearby, and a person may have to first notify that an unknown AirTag or other Apple device is traveling with them. But many of these changes only apply to iPhone users; People who have Android phones will need to download Apple’s Tracker Detect app to receive alerts about unknown airtags.
Asked by Grid to comment on the issue, an Apple spokesperson said in a February statement from the company announcing the security upgrade.
Meanwhile, reports of misuse of airtags keep pouring in. “It’s incredibly anxiety-inducing,” Mathias said. “When you leave your house, when you are at home, because now someone has decided to do [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?’”
disassembling digital trackers
The bills that have come up in state legislatures all take the same general approach – explicitly making it illegal to track down someone with airtags or similar devices.
Democratic New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty signed on to sponsor the New Jersey bill after seeing reports of airtag abuse. The bill would make tracking someone using a digital device without their consent a fourth-degree offense, a felony and could result in a prison sentence of 18 months. “These things are very effective, and they are very low cost and readily available,” Moriarty said. “There are a lot of legitimate uses for this. And absolutely, it’s very simple, but you know, as with many things, there is misuse of products and services that can be dangerous.”
The Ohio bill, which “prevents a person from knowingly installing a tracking device or application on another’s property without another person’s consent,” was introduced in May after a local news investigation found that People with no prior history of stalking or domestic violence will not be penalized for electronically tracking people.
The Pennsylvania law, which was announced in January but has yet to be formally introduced, would prevent Apple AirTags from being used for anything other than locating misplaced personal items.
Meanwhile, people are already looking for ways to defeat Apple’s latest set of security measures to fight the AirTag chase.
“The biggest issue is that airtags exist,” said Albert Fox Kahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP). By their very nature, he said, airtags are tools optimized for abuse.
That’s because they’re small—slightly larger than the size of a quarter—and are only $29, with a pack of four only costing $99. They can be put in one’s pocket or wallet and then tracked. And they draw on many different data sources to perform their tracking work. Each AirTag emits a Bluetooth signal that can also be detected by nearby devices using Apple’s “Find My” network. Those devices send the location of the AirTag to Apple’s iCloud service, where the owner of the AirTag can follow its location on their Find My app—in many cases, a few feet down.
“Those alerts, and whether it’s audible tones or are they alerts for iOS devices, can be helpful in some cases, but it’s obviously not enough to prevent, you know, a variety of pitfalls that can come.” ,” said the ear.
Many videos on YouTube instruct people to change their Airtags so that they don’t make noise, making them harder for targets to locate. Kahn also noted TikTok videos touting airtags as a way to track someone down to see if they are cheating.
“There’s a big company here that’s profiting from this easily abused device and then they’re outsourcing the cost to local police departments,” he said. “Obviously, there are other trackers on the market that can be abused as well. But you know, it’s cheap, and it works great globally.”
Mathias said she wants Apple to try to screen people for abuse history before selling AirTags, and let victims retain information from the device used to follow them — such as a map where It disappears after a device starts tracking them or was previously associated with their phone, instead disabling access.
Meanwhile, she still faces the fear raised by her apparent brush with an AirTag stalker.
“It’s happened over the past few weeks, it’s just one of high concern and over-vigilance,” she said. “But also every chance I get, I just look at my stuff [to find the AirTag],
Thanks to Dave Tepes for copy editing this article.