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Apple AirTag: Convenient or Simplifying Stalking?

Owing to a slew of shortcomings in Apple’s privacy protection features, AirTag has been one of the possible reasons behind stalking. As reported by 9toMac, AirTag is a feature that makes it frighteningly easy to stalk someone. Initially, Apple had taken several precautions to ensure that the use of AirTag would prevent stalking or similar instances of abuse. Let’s dig deeper into the situation and why so many believe AirTag to be a rather controversial tool. 

What Lies Behind It

When AirTag was launched, Apple eagerly focused on sharing details of the anti-stalking measures it had adopted: 

  • In case an AirTag not owned by you move when you do (with the owner not doing so as well) to places you frequently visit or your home, an alert appears on iPhones.
  • An audible alarm goes off if you don’t have an iPhone.
  • You can use either an Android phone or an iPhone to scan any unknown AirTag on you. When you do so, you are taken to an Apple web page where it’s shown how you can remove the battery and disable it.
  • The law enforcement authorities can access owner details from Apple after presenting a court order with the serial number every AirTag has.
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Nevertheless, those working with domestic abuse victims say that, in general, these protective measures taken by Apple are in general inadequate, more so when someone is living with an abusive partner. Several factors may compel the victim to live with the abuser, like financial dependence. 

Moreover, three days is too long a time to be tracked without you knowing it if you use Android. Again, it would be possible for a stalker who’s a stranger to track you to the address of your home or any location you frequently visit before AirTag manages to alert you. 

Geoffrey Fowler’s (Washington Post) AirTag Stalking Test

While carrying out a test to see how effective AirTag was, Geoffrey allowed a colleague to plant an AirTag on him intentionally. He got his colleague Jonathan Baran to pair an AirTag with his iPhone, put the tag in his backpack, and then Jonathan tracked him from across the San Francisco Bay for a week. Jonathan was able to locate Geoffrey’s whereabouts with amazing precision. After the AirTag was paired with his iPhone, an app that comes free with the phone displayed the tag’s exact location. 

Therefore, a feature that was launched to locate lost Apple products can be a scary tool in the hands of stalkers that can compromise your security greatly. What’s truly alarming is that even when Geoffrey was riding on his bike around San Francisco, alerts about his exact location kept appearing on Jonathan’s iPhone every few minutes. What’s even scarier is that when Geoffrey was in his home, his exact address was being displayed on the Find My app. 

The pop-up alert worked well on Jonathan’s iPhone, and he was notified several times. However, with the alerts coming only at home or other frequently visited locations, it might not be very effective against an abusive partner at all. Apple has also attempted to resolve these issues with its recent update. For instance, the AirTag should beep at random between eight and 24 hours if it’s away from its owners’ iPhones. 

The Shortcomings

  • As soon as the AirTag is beyond the range of the iPhone it’s paired with; the AirTag triggers off an alarm after a three-day countdown starts. Many victims are living with their abusers. Therefore, when the owner of the AirTag returns within the phone’s range, the alert countdown could be reset again to start the three-day countdown all over again. 
  • What’s also troubling is the option of turning off the “item safety alerts” in the Find My app which asks for no PIN or password. Victims of abuse aren’t always in control of their phones. Therefore, the alarm may not go off at all in many abusive situations. 

Additionally, other means could be applied to continuously find victims’ locations. If you disable the location tracking for all apps you have, this might not be a problem. However, you should take a step further. An effective way to protect yourself from online stalking is to install a VPN for Mac. A VPN sets up an encrypted connection between your device and the internet. Furthermore, it gives you the power to manipulate your location, meaning that you can change your IP address (indicating your approximate location). 

Conclusion

With the speaker capable of being disabled easily, the only protection Android users get is the audible alert that’s sounded after three days. Keeping the good of the people at the forefront, Apple should come ahead and join hands with Google to make sure Android phone users also receive the same pop-up alerts that iPhone users do. With the protection of victims of abuse being paramount, Apple should take the initiative to do all that’s necessary to improve its AirTag feature.  

 

Appleosophy Weekly

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