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Report: Women across the country are being stalked using Apple tracking devices
Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Report: Women across the country are being stalked using Apple tracking devices

Apple AirTags were designed to help users keep track of important but easy-to-lose possessions such as wallets, purses, and keys. But according to a new report from Vice, nefarious actors across the country are using the inexpensive tracking devices to stalk and harass women.

What are the details?

The news outlet reported this week that it obtained 150 reports from eight of the country's largest police departments within the last eight months that mentioned AirTags. Of the 150 reports, 50 of them reportedly involved women who alerted police after they started getting notifications that they were being tracked by an AirTag they didn't own.

According to Vice, 25 of those reports identified "a man in their lives — ex-partners, husbands, bosses — who they strongly suspected planted the AirTags on their cars in order to follow and harass them."

AirTags, unveiled by Apple about a year ago, are Bluetooth-enabled, battery-operated devices roughly the size of a half-dollar coin that can be attached to items and tracked with connected Apple devices. They work by pinging nearby Bluetooth-connected Apple devices using the "Find My" app, then showing the tracked objects on a map.

In its report, Vice kept the details of the police records vague in order to protect the victims' identities but shared overviews of several of the incidents.

In one case, a woman called the police after a man who had been harassing her placed an AirTag in her car and threatened to make her life hell. In another case, a woman reported to police that her ex had slashed her car's tires and left an AirTag in the vehicle to monitor her whereabouts. In yet another case, a woman reported that she started noticing something beeping inside her vehicle every time she left her house. Later, when she confronted an ex of hers, he admitted to placing an AirTag in her car to see if she was "cheating."

Other examples included revelations of exes or controlling partners mysteriously showing up at the same places as the women. In many instances, the women reportedly feared they would be the victims of physical violence.

Introducing AirTag | Couch | Applewww.youtube.com

What if you don't have an iPhone?

On its product description page for AirTags, Apple states that the devices are "designed to discourage unwanted tracking."

"If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send you an alert," the tech giant explains. "After a while, if you still haven’t found it, the AirTag will start playing a sound to let you know it’s there."

In an ironic effort to enhance privacy, Apple notes that "only you can see where your AirTag is ... not even Apple knows the location of your AirTag or the identity of the device that helps find it."

But what about people who don't own an iPhone or other Apple device? For them, the danger is patently clear. No notifications about a nearby AirTag would ever be sent, and therefore they would never know that they are being tracked.

Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Vice that the feature amounts to an obvious oversight by Apple — and a dangerous one at that.

"That was a completely ridiculous way to launch a new device, without having taken into account its use in a domestic violence situation," she said, adding, "But specifically, the blind spot that Apple had was people who live outside of the Apple ecosystem."

"Stalking and stalkerware existed before AirTags, but Apple made it cheaper and easier than ever for abusers and attackers to track their targets," added Albert Fox Cahn, executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

How has Apple responded?

When reached by Vice regarding the police reports, an Apple representative directed the outlet to a February company blog post, which outlined recent security updates.

In the post, Apple said incidents of AirTag misuse are "rare" but acknowledged that "each instance is one too many." It also claimed that it is working with safety groups and law enforcement to come up with ways to crack down on criminal misuse.

One idea has involved handing over the serial ID number of alleged perpetrators in certain instances.

"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," Apple said.

But critics warn by that time, it may already be too late for victims.

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Phil Shiver

Phil Shiver

Phil Shiver is a former staff writer for The Blaze. He has a BA in History and an MA in Theology. He currently resides in Greenville, South Carolina. You can reach him on Twitter @kpshiver3.