AirTag Stalking: How Can You Avoid It?
Table of Contents
- By Greg Brown
- Jan 03, 2023
Cyberstalking has taken on a life of its own with the internet, email, and other similar forms of communication. Predators no longer need to map out a target’s routine; they simply attach an electronic tracking device and maliciously harass another person.
Apple AirTags burst onto the scene in April of 2021 as a way to track items such as car or home keys, luggage, and other personal belongings. When first introduced, AirTags was met with plenty of optimism, letting users track third-party items and other Apple devices.
AirTags are small Bluetooth-enabled transmitters providing location information back to iPhones. Surprisingly, Hedy LaMarr (1914-2000), a beautiful Austrian-American actress, pioneered the technology that one day would form the foundation of wi-fi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication. LaMarr’s inventive genius was largely ignored in favor of her stunning good looks.
There are several options if you are in the market for a Bluetooth tracking device. A significant factor that sets Apple’s device apart from the others is its Precision Finding technology. The precision finding feature offers directional instructions on an iPhone display, guiding users to their lost AirTag. Tap the “Play Sound” button within the Find My app to locate the missing AirTag.
AirTags, SmartTags, and similar button-sized Bluetooth-enabled devices are now used by stalkers, car thieves, and child predators. Billed as a cheap means of tracking small personal items, law enforcement worldwide began receiving complaints about the trackers hidden in luxury cars and luggage.
The more sophisticated technology has become, the easier it is for predators to misuse it. Unfortunately, when a new device or technology hits the market, companies do not take the issue seriously and fail to address the accusations.
On the other hand, Apple has moved aggressively to address these issues and listen to each new complaint. Apple began new software updates, helping iPhone users to become more aware of unknown AirTags that may be following them.
Eva Galperin, Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says, “I was concerned ahead of their release as soon as I figured out how they worked. I was concerned very shortly after they were released when I started seeing reports of stalking and being contacted by people who were being stalked using these devices,”
Is an AirTag Following You?
AirTags and a few AirPods are part of Apple’s “Find My” network. Once you have set up your device, any unwanted tracking and location mechanism is displayed on the Items tab within the Find My app.
According to Apple, if unwanted tracking tiles are moving with you over time, iPhones notify their owner in one of two ways:
- To ensure you receive alerts on your iPhone, AirPods, or iPad, go to location services under the privacy tab. Turn on the Location Services feature.
- If AirTags are not with their owner for some time, the device will emit an alert when it’s moved.
Stop an AirTag from Following You
If the Precision Finding app does not locate the unwanted tracking device, there are a few other options. The first step is physically looking for the device inside a car or luggage. Remember, the AirTag must be moving to send out a signal. Look inside pockets and bags, and thoroughly examine your car.
AirTags have two technologies to track locations.
- Near-Field Communications (NFC) allows a device within a few feet of each other to communicate wirelessly. NFC is also useful for pairing a device, and from the iPhone 11 on, the NFC reader can pull up a URL from the AirTag.
- Ultra-wideband is used for longer distances and location tracking.
AirTags emit a Bluetooth signal regularly, and scanners cannot identify an AirTag specifically. Apple has made it impossible to identify an AirTag because the device regularly changes its Bluetooth signature. However, these simple apps can give you a lay of the land around your location. Some Bluetooth tracking tiles will label themselves in the broadcast.
Opt-Out of the Find My Network
AirTag’s technology is not revolutionary but relies on older tracking devices to get a Bluetooth signal to the owner. There is no built-in GPS; instead, the signal piggybacks off other nearby devices to get a signal to its owner.
Disabling the Find My network app prevents Bluetooth-enabled devices from tracking you. Unfortunately, this removes your ability to track your own AirTag device.
AirTag Serial Numbers
Owners can include the AirTag’s serial number and phone number when setting up their devices. If you come across an unwanted AirTag, the serial number can help track the intrusion. There is no direct link from the AirTag, and owners are not notified in any way.
To find the serial number, tap the notification on the paired iPhone. A webpage opens and shows the serial number.
Any unwanted tracking leaves a trail of information. An AirTag requires a device for pairing, a compatible iPhone or iPad, and an iCloud account.
Disable the AirTag
Apple uses end-to-end encryption, which protects all location information sent from the device to an iPad, iPhone, or MAC. Remove the battery if you have found an unwanted AirTag and obtained all the information available. Once the AirTag’s battery has been removed, all location information is no longer visible.
On the back of the AirTag, push down and twist counterclockwise. Take the back cover off and remove the battery.
Keep Yourself Protected and Aware of the Dangers
Apple AirTags and similar Bluetooth tracking devices are great little gems for people who forget or lose everything. Keys, luggage, and cars in large parking lots have found a home for AirTags.
Unfortunately, criminals always take what is useful and turn it into a nightmare. Law enforcement is well aware of the cars being stolen with AirTags attached; what is frightening are the stalkers going after children and women.
Plenty of reports have surfaced where Bluetooth-enabled devices are attached to a woman’s car or a vehicle with children. No matter how safe a person tries to be, predators get around the rules, finding a way to attack the unsuspecting.