A few weeks ago, Sam, a woman from Brooklyn who helps manage a bar, received a push notification on her phone:
The notification stated “your current location can be seen by the owner of this AirTag.”
Apple had launched its button-sized tool for tracking location last April, named AirTags — Sam never heard of it.
The company sells them for $29 apiece, or $99 for four, as an easy way to keep track of essential belongings, according to Huffpost.
Almost at 1 a.m, on Sam’s phone, there was a notification that an AirTag device had been spotted tracking her as early as 5:30 a.m. a day earlier, and another had been spotted late that afternoon.
The notification included a map showing Sam’s exact route from the bar to her apartment building, marked by a red line.
Her friend gave her advice on what to look for: a round, silver-white chip that was about an inch wide.
“I go through all my stuff, my bag and everything, my gym bag, jacket,” said Sam, who asked that her full name not be used for privacy reasons.
However, she did not see anything unusual.
After changing to a different outfit, she stepped outside her apartment building, where the red line had tracked her movements.
Despite carefully inspecting her phone case, she and her friend could not find anything.
The red line followed Sam as she walked the streets around her apartment building.
Women all over the country have reported similar incidents to police and the local press in an effort to raise public awareness about the risk of Apple AirTags being hidden in cars and personal items to track people without their knowledge.
There are many stories on TikTok, and some have been shared on Reddit and Twitter.
Devices are sometimes found, and sometimes they are not.
An Instagram model in New York City, Brooks Nader, shared her experience last year.
She was at a crowded bar and her coat hanging on a chair. As she walked back to her apartment, she received an alert about an unknown AirTag device tracking her.
“I just want people to be aware that this exists,” she noted on Instagram.
Ashley Estrada, from Los Angeles, posted an explanation on TikTok explaining how she found a device stuck between the license plate of her vehicle and the body of it. A woman in Oregon told a similar story.
Courtney Chandler of Philadelphia told local news station 6 ABC that she awoke from a similar notification about an unknown AirTag last month, although it had fallen off before she reached her home.
“What’s so scary about it is I have no idea who did this to me. I don’t know their intentions,” Chandler told the News outlet.
A location tracking device is not a new concept.
Tile is also a manufacturer of pocket-sized trackers for keys and wallets, claiming to be the world’s largest lost and found company.
Apple, however, has a particularly strong network. A tag’s location can be tracked using the Find My network, which pings location signals back to the owner’s iPhone, MacBook, or iPad through Bluetooth technology. The process is so efficient, it hardly drains the battery of a device. A lot of Apple products are already all over the world, so the location data is generally very accurate.
Satellite GPS tracking is the basis of LandAirSea’s tracking device, which involves a monthly subscription fee.
Tile, like AirTags, also uses Bluetooth. However, a New York Times tech reporter who tracked her husband using three different products found that the Apple product produced the most specific results, especially in a metropolitan environment.
In the past year, the company has responded to concerns about AirTags numerous times; shortly after they were released, The Washington Post published a story headlined “Apple’s AirTags Made It Frighteningly Easy to ‘Stalk’ Me in a Test.” Apple announced additional safety features this week while simultaneously defending the tracking devices.
“Since AirTag’s launch last April, users have written in to share countless stories of AirTag being instrumental in reuniting them with the things they value,” the tech giant said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Apple acknowledge that some people use AirTags incorrectly, as well.
“We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTag’s privacy and security,” the company told HuffPost, highlighting safety features that they called “a first in the industry.”
The features “both inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them, and deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes,” it stated.
iPhones running iOS 14.5 will send a notification if they detect an AirTag traveling with someone they don’t know. When you arrive home, the iPhone will send a notification, either at the end of the day or when it detects you’ve left the office * which explains why Sam received a notification when she did.
A new app, launched in December, lets Android users know whether they are being followed by mystery AirTags.
When AirTags are separated from their owners, they will also make noise, which occurs between 8 and 24 hours after separation. The randomization helps deter criminal activity, the company claims. If you want to find the AirTag faster, you can force it to chirp with your phone.
Users who find an unwanted AirTag are advised to disable it either by taking it apart or by using their phones; instructions can be found on the company’s website.
Bluetooth speakers can prove to be spotty, as anyone who has used them can attest to.
Sam tried using the instructions on her phone to force the two AirTags following her to play a sound, but they couldn’t connect to do so.
When she saw a man following her down the street and watching her from her apartment building, she became suspicious.
Sam tossed her phone case and gathered her belongings for the night with her friend in a dumpster.
Upon checking her phone shortly after 4 a.m., the AirTags had ceased following her. Although she cannot confirm it, she suspects the AirTag might be in the phone case.
“If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag,” Apple told HuffPost.
A unique serial number is printed on each AirTag so that its owner can be identified. Unfortunately, people who do not have AirTags (tracking them) cannot do much about it.
Amber Norsworthy, from Mississippi, got a notification from her phone while at a park with her three children, but they searched all their belongings, but found nothing.
“I think they should stop selling them for a period of time until they can work out some safety boundaries with it,” Norsworthy explained to the BBC.
In some cases, working with law enforcement has led to charges being laid, whereas in others, it has revealed miscommunication, such as when a family member borrows a car.
Sam went to her local station of the New York Police Department in Brooklyn.
“They were just very dismissive,” she said. None of the officers she spoke to wrote anything down. “They were like, ‘There’s nothing to report. Nothing happened. We can’t just write a report. This isn’t like TV shows.’”
Similar experiences were reported by women who spoke with The New York Times about the matter.
For her peace of mind, Sam changed the locks on her apartment and installed a small security camera outside her door.
She later noticed the man watching her moved out, and it turned out to be a subletter.
Apple announced on Thursday that it would be updating the AirTags later this year so they are easier to find.
One of these updates, “precision finding,” will let you see the distance the AirTag is from your phone, while another will notify you that an AirTag is following you. According to Apple, its AirPods are triggering notifications with slightly different language, “unknown accessory detected,” adding that it will be specified in a future update that the device is harmless.
Using an AirTag to track people without their permission is often illegal, according to Apple, which plans to show people setting up an AirTag message that makes them acknowledge devices are only meant to track personal belongings.
In the end, the company has no control over how people use that information.