The dangers of Apple AirTags and how to ensure you are not being tracked

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The dangers of Apple AirTags and how to ensure you are not being tracked
Clearly, you are at a significant disadvantage if you don't carry an iPhone. 
Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

While Apple AirTags seem like a good idea, they present serious security and privacy issues that need careful consideration.

While technology is supposed to aid us in our everyday lives, it can also jeopardise the quality and security of our lives if used in the wrong way.  Serious privacy concerns are being raised over the live tracking of people with AirTags.  At the time of Apple’s launch of the product in Australia in April, many experts in the field including myself voiced our concerns about how these seemingly ‘helpful’ everyday devices could be exploited in extraordinarily sinister ways.

On paper the AirTag is an incredibly innovative product that has been designed to solve one of the greatest day-to-day problems of people all over the world – misplacing your belongings. AirTag is an easy way to keep track of your things that you regularly misplace; by attaching one to your keys, slipping one in your backpack or securing one to your wallet. However, it is the abuse of power that this type of product can be manipulated for that Australians should be seriously concerned about.

Using an AirTag for sinister reasons is very easy.  Your AirTag sends out a secure Bluetooth signal that can be detected by nearby Apple devices in the Find My network. These devices send the location of your AirTag to iCloud, which you can then go to the Find My app and see it on a map. The Find My app is a platform where you can also keep track of all of your Apple devices, as well as family and friends. The ability to place the app on a person or their vehicle and track through the app is a relatively simple task. 

Apple has assured their customers that the whole process is anonymous and encrypted to protect your privacy. The fact that only you can see your AirTag initially sounds like an incredibly positive thing for your security, however, this is where the problem starts for my colleagues and I.  

An AirTag can essentially be operated as a tracking device that can be used for sinister purposes, such as compulsive partners to follow their other half, toxic ex-partners to stalk their vulnerable former spouse, or even unscrupulous bosses tracking the movements of their employees in the office, outside of the office, travelling and the whereabouts of delivery staff. These devices open up an extremely dangerous can of worms with a whole string of serious privacy concerns.

AirTags resemble the size of an Australian 50 cent coin – they’re sleek, small and relatively weightless, meaning they can easily go undetected. If you don’t know to look for one in your handbag or laptop case, in your car, or even in a coat pocket, most people could go about their day completely unaware that behind their screens, a stalker or over-possessive counterpart is tracking your every move.

It is critical that Australians learn the steps to checking if an AirTag is in your radius and then how to disable it if you do find a foreign device. The efficiency of Apple AirTags is unmatched in the market – a battery life of over a year, no data usage and it is water-resistant – so, it will continue to track you until you take the power back.

If someone else’s AirTag is hidden in your belongings or on your person, your iPhone will notice it’s travelling with you and should send you an alert.

If you haven’t found the AirTag after a period of time, it will start playing a sound to let you know it’s still there. These are features that Apple has implemented to help deter people from perverting the device to use it for unwanted tracking.

An AirTag that isn't with the person who registered it for an extended period of time will also play the same sound when moved so you can find it, even if you don’t use an iOS device. While all of this sounds great in theory, the reality is the risk of misuse is still real and for those who use android devices the risk is much greater.

There are steps you should take if you receive a notification that says an AirTag is moving with you and disable the alien device:

  1. Tap the message and select Continue. If you need help finding the AirTag, tap Play Sound. 

  2. Tap and hold the top of your iPhone or NFC-capable smartphone, such as an Android device, to the white side of the AirTag.

  3. Tap the notification that appears, which will open a browser that provides information about the AirTag, including its serial number and if the owner has marked it as lost. 

  4. To disable the AirTag and stop sharing your location, tap Instructions to Disable AirTag and follow the onscreen steps.

  5. If you feel your safety is at risk, contact your local law enforcement who can work directly with Apple.

If you don’t have an iPhone, you can’t locate nearby tags remotely, but you can help someone recover a lost tag. The only way to locate tags near you if you don’t have an iPhone is to ask someone with an iPhone to scan the area. Clearly, you are at a significant disadvantage if you don't carry an iPhone. 

While we as technology solution providers go to great lengths to ensure technology is safe and fit for purpose, unfortunately, the latest Apple AirTag device is one type of technology that many people believe will be misused - for the wrong reasons. 

Anushka Bandara is Cofounder and CEO of Elegant Media.
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