- Apple has released the AirTags with a rich set of features and anti-stalking measures, but are they enough?
- There’s a practical problem that allows malicious actors a three-day window of opportunity to stalk others.
- Apple could resolve this problem in a number of ways; one is working together with Google.
Apple has finally released the Tile-like AirTag, a Bluetooth-based tracker that is tightly integrated into the ‘Find My’ network, offering users an easy way to locate stuff they’ve lost, be it keys, bags, bikes, or whatever else. ‘Find My’ is an end-to-end encrypted network, so by design, it is private. However, with the AirTag being a portable and pretty small tracker, Apple had to incorporate some features that would prevent or at least discourage unwanted tracking, and they did. However, as sincere as Apple’s efforts have been on that part, the system is not perfect.
Before we explain how one could use the AirTag to track people without them realizing it, let’s see what Apple has done to prevent nefarious applications of its new product.
First, if someone slips an AirTag into your bag, or car, or coat, your iPhone will generate a notification to warn you that an “AirTag Was Found Moving With You”. This will only happen if the AirTag is not paired with your Apple ID, or any other nearby iPhone (to avoid having false alarms).
If the stalked person doesn’t have an iPhone but an Android device, they will get to know about the presence of the AirTag after three days, when the small tracker will start emitting a beeping sound. This happens when the AirTag is out of range of its paired device for 72 hours. Since the battery is user-replaceable, it is also removable, so anyone has a quick and easy way to deactivate the AirTag if they find one planted on their possessions.
But here lies the problem with these 72 hours. If the stalker has a way to re-pair their device before the timer runs out, they are practically renewing the iniquitous tracking for another three days. Oftentimes, even 24 hours would be enough for these degenerates, as one could choose to stalk their wife or their employee, or anyone they’re meeting with every day. And considering that the AirTag is a Bluetooth tracker, the stalker wouldn’t even have to come close to the victim.
Reducing this timeout any less than the currently set 72 hours would make the discoverability of stolen items that have hidden AirTags inside them problematic, so Apple can’t just make the trackers beep right away. What they can do is maybe collaborate with Google to somehow work on an Android-based warning generation system. This is something seen rarely, but when the cause is important, the two entities have proved their willingness to sit at the same table.
So, to answer the question of the title, yes, you can track people with the Apple AirTags, but on conditions. They need to be Android users, and you need to come in Bluetooth-range proximity with them before 72 hours have passed. Possibly, Apple hasn’t disclosed everything about its anti-stalking mechanisms, so more conditions may (hopefully) apply.