In March of this year, Laura (not fictional) was in her car when a notification appeared on her smartphone, alerting her that an Apple AirTag had been detected nearby. “I didn’t know what it was or what it meant. I felt quite scared, ”he mentions in The Guardian.
“I stopped and still didn’t know what I was looking at. My phone showed a map of where she was with a trail of red dots indicating the route she had just followed. I think he was in shock. I drove straight to a friend’s house and we searched the vehicle,” she added.
They emptied the glove box, opened the hood, checked under it, then behind the license plate. “We finally found it under the rug in the back, a small gadget the size of a 10 pence piece. I did not want him anywhere near me, ”says the woman anonymously.
To Laura, it was obvious how she got there. She had recently separated from her partner, but he had spent the previous day with her young son, and had transferred her car seat from his car to Laura’s backseat when she had dropped it.
Apple AirTag, a device as small as it is dangerous
The AirTag was launched in April last year, a bluetooth wireless device designed to keep track of items like keys, wallets, cars, or anything else at risk of being lost or stolen.
But it has also been a gift to stalkers. “We are discovering that it is quite a problem,” he says. Violet Alvarez of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which supports the stalking of victims. “It’s so small, unnoticeable and so easy to use. It doesn’t require any technical skills and is relatively cheap to buy.”
AirTags are also widely available. “I saw AirTags for sale at my local supermarket,” he says. Emma Pickering, Senior Operations Manager for Abuse technological from the domestic abuse charity Refuge. “People see them, they think about tracking more, and the concept of tracking becomes more established. We are normalizing it.”
Both Refuge and Suzy Lamplugh Trust they have been contacted by women like Laura, who have received AirTag notifications on their phones. Some found the devices planted in children’s backpacks by ex-partners.
The number of cases of harassment by AirTags is really alarming
Others had slipped into women’s pockets or bags. In one case, the AirTag could not be located at all. The Refuge team talked to the caller about how to disable it, but they still don’t know where it’s hidden.
At Swansea Crown Court this month, Christopher Paul Trotman, 41, pleaded guilty to stalking his ex-girlfriend by sticking an AirTag under the bumper of his auto.
Although he had received notifications about the device on his phone, he had no idea what they meant and initially ignored them. It was only when her daughter also started receiving notifications that the tag was found.
In most of the cases seen by the Refuge and Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the victims have a clear idea of who planted the device, usually current or former associates, but this is not always the case.
In June, the Irish actress Hannah RoseMay tweeted a warning after an AirTag was planted on him during an after-hours event at Disneyland, California.
He was in the parking lot at 2 in the morning, about to drive home, when he received a notification that someone had been tracking her for two hours.
The Sports Illustrated model, Brook Nader, shared a similar experience Instagram. Someone put an AirTag in his coat pocket when he was in a restaurant in New York. Four hours later, in what he described as “the scariest moment in history,” Nader I was walking home alone when she received a notification that she was being tracked.
How Apple has tried to curb cases of harassment by AirTags
Manzana has emphasized that the company takes the problem of stalking very seriously, which is why it designed the alert system that appears on a iPhone if you see an AirTag that it is not registered to the user moving with itself over time.
However, that warning system it only works if the stalking victim has an iPhone. So in December 2021, eight months after AirTags launched, Apple released Tracker Detect, an app that will alert on a device Androidas long as the person is knowledgeable and forward-thinking enough to install the app and keep it active.
The AirTag also emits a warning bell after a while to alert anyone nearby of your presence. Initially, the chime would ring after three days, but it was later shortened to a random time between 8 and 24 hours.
Apple has been working on making the ringer louder; it can be especially hard to hear on a busy street or when hidden under a car, making it easier to find after you’ve received an alert.
Unfortunately, Rory Innes, founder of Cyber Helpline, mentions that “If you find an AirTag under your car or get a notification, it’s impossible to talk to anyone at Apple. At that time, speed is important. You need expert advice very quickly.”
Therefore, Innes finally advises victims to contact the police (Each AirTag has a unique serial number that should identify the purchaser via their Apple ID), though the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has heard of cases where the police don’t take this issue seriously enough.