For the past few months, Apple’s Airtags has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
As of late, I’ve been questioning if this product should even exist—at least in its current form—after reading this Vice special report:
Women are being stalked throughout the country with Apple AirTags, according to police records (opens in new tab)
AirTags are being used to track and harass women, according to a new investigation. More than 150 police documents were collected over an eight-month period by the website.
50 women phoned the police after receiving warnings that their travels were being followed by an AirTag they didn’t own, according to Vice. Twenty-five of them were able to name a guy in their personal lives—ex-partners, spouses, or bosses—who they were certain had installed AirTags on their vehicles in order to harass and track them.
Finding my misplaced keys isn’t more important than the safety of women who are being followed.
A large number of these cases included ex-partners, which is not surprising. Reports of slashing tiles and leaving an AirTag in the automobile were made by a single woman. An more lady reported finding AirTags on many occasions, and her ex (who has a history of abuse) showed up in the same places the victim did, each time.
Many improvements have been made by Apple to the AirTags in an attempt to make them safer for their users while also thwarting potential stalkers. Preventative alarms, the development of an Android app to notify users of AirTags and the reduction of the time range in which an airtag will chime when it is removed from its owner are among the new features that have been added to AirTags.
Even still, AirTags are still being used to harass and stalk people, raising the issue of whether Apple has responded swiftly enough to the hazards these gadgets bring when they fall into the wrong hands.
Director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation(opens in new tab) Eva Galperin informed me that Apple had investigated stalking mitigations but had not done enough. People who have dealt directly with survivors were not consulted, and they had a hard time comprehending how Apple might target people who are not part of the Apple ecosystem.”
However, “later this year” will bring other modifications. Users of the iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 will be able to view the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag with more ease thanks to the precision locating feature. While working on making the sound itself louder, Apple will also provide an alert on your phone when an unknown AirTag makes a sound near you.
In iOS, you don’t have to download an app and perform a scan every time you want to see what’s going on. You don’t get the same level of safety from Apple’s goods if you reside outside of Apple’s walled garden.
The EFF’s Eva Galperin
However, none of these alterations benefit the women who are now the targets of stalking. Android users, on the other hand, are particularly exposed since they must download the Apple Tracker Detect software and execute a manual scan in order to safeguard themselves.
“Having to download and conduct a scan every time is not comparable with the type of detection that you get with iOS,” said Galperin. In other words, if you reside outside of Apple’s walled garden, you don’t get the same level of security from Apple devices.
To maintain tabs on their belongings, Avi Greengart, founder and principal analyst of Techsponential, argues that the “great majority” of individuals use AirTags for this purpose. Because of the difficulty with Android, he agrees.
“AirTag functionality within the Apple ecosystem has been adjusted,” Greengart wrote in an e-mail to me. To guarantee that Android users receive zero-setup alerts, a shift must be made there.
According to 9to5Google(opens in new tab), Google is apparently considering including a Bluetooth tracker as part of Android OS, although this isn’t confirmed and no date has been set for its release.
As far as I’m concerned, AirTags should be taken off the market until Apple completes its promised updates and Android has its own device identification scanner integrated in.
When used properly, AirTags, according to Apple’s press release from February(opens in new tab), may help you locate a misplaced wallet or track down life-saving medication. In my opinion, the safety of women who are being stalked outweighs any other beneficial usage.
“The only option is to cease selling and supporting AirTags,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project to Vice. This product should not be allowed to be on the market at this time.
So, in order for physical trackers to be recognised by both iOS and Android, the EFF’s Galperin wants all manufacturers to agree on a standard. We’re still a long way from where we want to be.
If Apple doesn’t take a hard look at AirTags and push the reset button, a person will die.