Apple to tweak AirTag to deal with tracker stalkers

Following reports of Apple's AirTag being used to track users, Apple announced updates to the device to prevent them from being misused.
14 February 2022

While wearables are not meant to be used as tracking devices, the reality is, most wearables today can be tracked. Just like any other smart device, when data is generated, sent out, and received, location data is often part of it as well.

For example, wearables used for sports like running often map the data of the routes used. At most times, users share their workout routes and such. The only problem with this is, these data can also be accessed and used for the wrong reasons.

With so much information on social media, stalking is becoming a big concern for many. Privacy settings can protect users but some stalkers, including cybercriminals, are now finding ways to secretly track people through these devices.

One popular device that has been making headlines as a popular trackable tool by stalkers is the Apple AirTag. Launched early last year, AirTags are coin-sized tracking devices designed to be affixed to things people tend to lose, synching wirelessly to iPhones, iPads, or iPod Touch devices to signal where they can be found.

Reports quickly surfaced of AirTags being used for more unscrupulous ends, such as being secretly stuck on a car to later steal it or find out where the owner goes. As such, Apple announced updates to AirTags to prevent them from being used secretly to track people.

“We’ve become aware that individuals can receive unwanted tracking alerts for benign reasons, such as when borrowing someone’s keys with an AirTag attached,” Apple said in a post.

“We also have seen reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes.”

Apple said that it has been working with police and safety groups to stop misuse, which it maintained is rare.

Newer iPhone models will alert owners of an “unknown accessory detected” when they sense an unidentified AirTag in range.

The AirTag software is being updated to display a warning the first time it is used, advising that tracking people without their consent is a crime in many locales. Apple will also share the identities of owners with police when warranted.

“Every AirTag has a unique serial number, and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple can provide the paired account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement. We have successfully partnered with them on cases where information we provided has been used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was then apprehended and charged,” said Apple.

Apple said it is working on enabling iPhones to more precisely locate AirTags to help people find any planted information without their consent.

“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property,” Apple said in the post.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products.”

Apple late last year released software so people with Android-powered smartphones can detect if an AirTag is nearby.

Apart from the AirTag, privacy concerns were also raised when vulnerabilities were reported in the iPhone after spyware Pegasus was used to eavesdrop on conversations and spy on individuals. While Apple has issued a fix for the vulnerability, the damage caused by the Pegasus spyware was experienced globally.

As for wearable devices, tracking them is still a possibility for most cyber criminals and stalkers. One way to avoid this is to ensure location data is turned off when it’s not really needed.

With additional reporting from © Agence France-Presse