Apple AirTags are undoubtedly a useful product: quarter-sized Bluetooth tracking devices that you can stick to an iPhone or a set of keys. But as with so many tech innovations, there’s that annoying human element to deal with, which is that AirTags can be used by a stalker to find out where you live, work, and go. There have been several cases recently in both cases The United States and the UK of those who claimed to be unknowingly tracked by AirTags.
Here’s how to find out if you’re being tracked with an AirTag or similar device — and what to do if you are.
Check your iPhone
Often the first indication that you are being stalked comes from your iPhone. If you’re using iOS 14.5 or later, your iPhone is constantly listening for nearby AirTags. That’s one of the reasons AirTags work so well: This information is sent to Apple’s servers to help recover a lost item.
But if someone puts an AirTag in your pocket without your knowledge, your iPhone will notice. If that AirTag gets stuck when you move, your iPhone will display an alert that says “AirTag Found Moving With You.” Clicking on the alert will show you where it was detected and moved with you.
Unfortunately, the location where the AirTag was detected is usually not the same as where it was initially hidden, as it takes a few hours for your iPhone to notice that an AirTag stays with you as you move.
Check with an Android phone
If you have an Android phone, you can check if there is an AirTag near you with the Apple TrackerDetect App. This app should run on most Android devices and will scan the area around you for nearby AirTags. However, this only works when the app is running and actively scanning, and you won’t get any alerts if there’s an AirTag hidden near you.
If you’re worried about being tracked, an app called AirGuard does a lot of what iPhones do, but on your Android phone: it will run in the background and scan for AirTags (and Tile trackers), and then notify you if one is detected multiple times. The open source app was written by a security lab at a German university.
Listen to the beep
Apple updated AirTags last year to beep at random intervals between 8 and 24 hours after removing themselves from their paired iPhone. This beep is quite persistent, similar to a smoke detector battery. So when you hear such a beep, it’s time to search.
Unfortunately, it is also quite easy for someone to remove the speaker from an AirTag. These muted AirTags are also available on eBay and other places, so if you’re concerned, run a scan with your iPhone or Android phone.
Find and disable the tracker
AirTags and similar devices are small enough to slip into a pocket or purse without you noticing. So it is a good idea to check all the pockets of your clothes, your handbag and the lining of coats and jackets on the coin device.
If you have an iPhone, when you get a notification of an AirTag moving with you, one option is to ping it via the built-in beep function, making it easier to find. Just follow the sound until you find it.
The AirTag can be attached to your car if you receive a notification while driving. Check around the wheel arches, behind the bumpers and on the underside of the car. Look for something out of place: The AirTag may be in a holder to protect it, such as the Elevation Lab TagVault. If you think someone has had access to the inside of the car, check under the seats, in the gaps between the seat cushions and under the floor mats.
The Precision search function on iPhones can also be very useful here, as it tells you how far away and in which direction the AirTag is. Select it in the FindMy app and move the phone to help it find the AirTag.
What should you do now if you find a hidden AirTag? It may have accidentally ended up in your pocket if it is attached to a key ring or similar. If it stands alone and is hidden in your car or your clothes, it could have been placed by someone with less good intentions.
AirTags are designed to display a webpage with owner’s details by tapping them against your iPhone. I don’t recommend this if you’re concerned about how it got there. While unlikely, hackers have shown that it does possible to change the web address where the AirTag goes, which can be used to install spyware. That’s not a trivial hack, but it’s possible.
Instead, you must turn off the device. And the best way to do this is to remove the battery.
Put on a pair of latex gloves if you have them, then pick up the AirTag and hold it with the steel sleeve with the Apple logo facing you. Turn this cover counterclockwise with your fingers until it clicks, then lift your fingers. The steel cap pops off and the battery, a silver cylinder the size of a dime, is located underneath. Remove the battery and the AirTag is turned off.
Without the battery, the AirTag cannot track you and will not send any more information to anyone. It will not warn anyone that it is disabled; it just stops sending a signal.
Keep the tag and battery, then call the police. If you are concerned about your safety, call 911 and go to a safe place.
Using an AirTag to follow someone without their consent is a crimeand the police may be able to trace the person who used the serial number tag by getting the owner information from Apple, or by fingerprinting the tag or battery (which is why I suggested gloves above).
Is Apple to blame?
Apple advertises the AirTag as “a super easy way to keep track of your stuff. . . the Find My network – hundreds of millions of iPhone, iPad and Mac devices around the world – helps track down your AirTag.The AirTag works because it sends an identification signal to Apple’s servers over this network when it comes close to an iPhone. For example, you can find a set of lost keys with an AirTag even if it’s not in your area, and how people have used an AirTag to track email sent to Elon Musk, Tim Cook and North Korea. (Spoiler: The North Korean didn’t make it.)
Unfortunately, that also makes it ideal for a stalker to use: the network has no idea what the AirTag is used for and a lot of people have an iPhone that transmits this signal.
However, Apple is aware of the problem and has changes to how AirTags work to make them less suitable for unwanted tracking. Now they beep when they’re not with their owner, and an iPhone will notify you for a few hours if it sees an unknown AirTag near you. They also keep the information stored when you set up an AirTag so that the original owner can be more easily found by the police.
We all have the right to live safely and peacefully, and technology can make that easier. Unfortunately, it can also make it easier for someone who makes an effort power and control to follow someone, or for a stranger to endangering your safety. There are people Who can help outthough, and technology can be used to help out and protect you also. It’s not the technology that’s to blame here: it’s the person who misuses it.