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Apple AirTags can be used to track you. Here’s how to make that stop



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AirTags are designed to help you keep track of your belongings, but they can potentially be abused.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Apple is new AirTag Tracking Devices promise to help you find lost keys, bags or other items – but what if someone uses one of the small drives to try and trace you?

While Apple has built in certain safeguards to discourage unwanted tracking and recently more added in an update, it is still possible for someone to slip AirTag without your permission in your bag or car and track your location. And unfortunately, there are few ways to detect if someone has an AirTag (or a similar device, such as a Tile or Samsung SmartTag tracker) to follow you.

“Location tracking is a serious concern for survivors and a common tactic of abuse,” said Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the nonprofit National Network to End Domestic Violence. “Apple is getting a lot of attention because of the size of their network, which allows these devices to be more accurate than other comparable tracking devices. We are concerned about all possible tracking options because of the security risks.”

So what can you do to protect yourself from being tracked by an AirTag?

New technology, old privacy issues

AirTags use a combination of sensors, wireless signals and Apple’s extensive Find My network to help people locate lost items. Apple has built in several safeguards to prevent the devices from being used to track people – an industry first. However, many have noted that that protection may not be enough to protect victims.

At launch in April, these will include a notification that reads “AirTag Found Moving With You” – but only if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch with iOS or iPadOS 14.5 or later. In June, Apple said it did: working on an android app to also notify those users of unwanted AirTags traveling with them, which will be released later this year.

Apple also initially made AirTags make a noise when separated from their owner after three days. With the update, that alarm will sound at any time within a window that lasts between 8 and 24 hours.

The privacy issues surrounding AirTags are part of a bigger problem, Olsen said.

“Technology doesn’t cause abuse, but it can facilitate it,” Olsen said. “Abusive people will use any tactic they can to establish power and control, so it’s not uncommon for someone to misuse a number of technologies and also commit non-tech related abuses.”

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Apple has built in more protections to prevent AirTags from being used to track people.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Every time a new Internet of Things product is introduced, it will raise some red flags, said Zarmeena Waseem, director of cybersecurity education at the National Cybersecurity Alliance. The release of a product like AirTags is in some ways similar to a new operating system, she added: Apple will find problems and then fix them in later updates, as we’ve already seen.

AirTags are different from stalkerware, or software that someone installs on your device without your knowledge or permission and that sends your private information — such as your text messages, social media communications, and your location — to their device. But using a device like an AirTag to check someone’s location can be a first stage of stalking, especially if the abuser doesn’t have physical access to your phone or laptop, said Victor Chebyshev, chief security researcher with the Global Research and Analysis Team. from security company Kaspersky.

“We are sure this will happen…anyone can be a victim,” Chebyshev said. “And the problem is, victims don’t have an effective solution to this problem right now.”

While the new, earlier warning sent to iPhone users is a good step, the 24-hour period it could last is still too long, Chebyshev added. From a security point of view, it is best to inform the user within a few hours, within any time frame after the AirTag is connected. (Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

What can you do to protect yourself from AirTags tracking?

If you believe your safety has been compromised, Apple recommends contacting local law enforcement, who can work with the company (you may be required to provide the AirTag or serial number). However, some victims are unable to do this. Here are some other possible solutions to prevent someone from stalking you with an AirTag.

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A hidden AirTag may not be as obvious as an AirTag on a key ring on your bag.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Search manually yourself

The most basic form of protection is to manually search yourself and your car for places where an AirTag has slipped – for example, the pockets of your clothes or bags, or under pillows. However, this is not the most effective as AirTags are so small and can be easily hidden.

Try to limit it

If you suspect someone is using an AirTag or similar device to track you, consider what information they seem to know and try to limit the items you carry with you during that time, Olsen said. This can help you identify if there is anything in your personal belongings, your car, or your home.

Invest in a Bluetooth tracker

AirTags use Bluetooth signals to connect to Apple’s Find My network. You can use Bluetooth tracking apps to scan your area to see if there is an AirTag nearby. While the apps cannot identify AirTags by name, they may be able to help you see if there is an unknown device nearby. A few options noted by Macworld are Bluetooth BLE Device Finder and BLE Scanner.






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Find the serial number of the AirTag

If you find an AirTag on you, there are two ways to find the AirTag serial number without notifying the owner.

If you have an iPhone, you can download the Find My app from Apple and hold the AirTag against your device. Find the name of the AirTag and tap it. The serial number appears below the name. You can also tap the top of your NFC-enabled iPhone or Android phone against the white side of the AirTag and then tap the notification that appears. The web page that opens shows the serial number. (You can also find it on the battery by removing it, but then the owner won’t be able to see your location.) Again, this information can be useful if you eventually have to go to the police.

Disable the AirTag

If you find an AirTag with you, you can simply turn it off to stop sharing your location by turning counterclockwise on the back near the Apple logo and removing the battery. The person on the other end of the line can no longer see your location.

However, if you find out that you are being followed, especially by a current or former intimate partner, domestic violence experts recommend: come up with a safety plan and consult with a domestic violence service before disabling the tracker.

Apple AirTag

The AirTag can be turned off by removing the battery.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Call for help if you can

If possible, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) for more information and to connect with local programs in your area.

For more information, read our guide on protect your online privacy after a breakup break, and what to do if you are the target of stalkerware.


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