Many police departments across the country have started receiving complaints from citizens that a notification on their iPhone alerts them that they are being secretly followed or stalked by someone placing an AirTag in their bag or car.
The small, almost quarter-sized device was designed to help people keep track of car keys, purses, backpacks and other items. They are small enough to be placed just about anywhere without anyone knowing they are nearby.
Earlier this week, with her permission, I hid an Apple AirTag under the seat of my friend Jessica Woods’ car. If I hadn’t told her it was there, she would never have seen it.
For two days, I was able to watch on my phone where she was going. I received a notification that she was at a school picking up her children. I saw it when she visited a friend’s house. I could see in which part of the parking lot she had left her car at the restaurant. All of this information was displayed on a map in my phone’s “Find My” app.
After a few days, I showed Jessica all the places she had been with the AirTag under her car seat.
“So you were picking up the kids from school at that time?”, “Yeah,” she said.
“Is that where parked in the parking lot?” I asked. “I wasn’t really in a parking spot,” she told me. “I was parked on the side, which is exactly what it shows.”
Although she was expecting to see her location on my phone, she was still a little surprised that the locations were so accurate.
What was also surprising was that she was tracked for 24-36 hours before receiving a notification. Eventually, she received a pop-up notification on her phone that an AirTag was traveling with her.
“It’s an uneasy feeling,” Woods said. “Especially since I have a daughter who will soon be 16. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Apple has worked to notify people being tracked (or harassed) more quickly. In Jessica’s case, the notification allowed her to ring or beep the AirTag to help locate it.
But it was a light chirp. One she wouldn’t have heard if I had placed it somewhere else in her car without her knowing.
“I knew it was under my seat so I knew what to look for. But hiding under my seat, I don’t think I would have heard it, especially if my car was running or I had music on. No”.
The notification Jessica received on her phone allowed her to get more information about the AirTag where she could see the serial number and the last four digits of my phone number since it is registered to me.
He also gave her instructions to remove the battery to prevent it from being traced back to the FindMy app on my phone.
I asked him, “who is likely to be followed with these things?”
“Young women,” she says. “Someone who has met someone may want to know where they are. Where they live if they just met them somewhere.
Here’s what to do if you receive a notification that an AirTag is traveling with you:
Open the app as instructed in the notification
Select to see more information about the AirTag
Write down the serial number and phone number
Then remove the battery by twisting the silver plate
Call the police
Do not throw away the AirTag. Once the battery is removed, it can no longer be tracked.
In a recent statement, Apple said it would provide linked account details in response to a valid subpoena or request from law enforcement. “We have successfully partnered in cases where the information we provided was used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was subsequently apprehended and charged.”
Importantly, there are no unwanted tracking notifications to anyone with an Android device, although Apple has released an app in the Google Play Store called Tracker Detect.