AirTags and Other Bluetooth Trackers Boost Privacy After Stalking and Theft Incidents

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Apple's AirTags and other Bluetooth trackers are meant to be useful, button-sized tools for tracking personal items and finding misplaced keys and wallets. But the devices have recently come under fire as they've been linked to criminal acts like stalking.

Bluetooth trackers like the AirTag, Tile and Samsung's Galaxy SmartTag devices are designed to help customers and yet are built with few privacy safeguards. Recent reports reveal AirTags have been used for stalking and theft attempts, with attorney generals in NY and PA issuing public safety alerts about the devices. A CT man allegedly used an AirTag to stalk his ex-girlfriend, hiding the device in her car, and was arrested this month. And last month, two women in Atlanta found AirTag devices hidden in their cars, with one finding the device in her gas tank.

Victims with Apple devices will often receive a notification that they are being tracked, alerting them that something is amiss. That was the case for Brooks Nader, a Sports Illustrated model, who received an iPhone alert while walking home from a bar.

"It was the scariest, scariest moment ever, and I just want everyone to be aware that this exists," wrote Nader said in a January Instagram post. She said her husband later discovered an AirTag in her coat pocket after she arrived home.

Apple has made efforts to combat the problem by encrypting communications between AirTags and its Find My network. It also announced this month that it would be adding privacy warnings to AirTags during the setup process. As an additional precaution, Apple said it would reduce the amount of time it takes to notify an iPhone owner if an unknown AirTag is in the person's vicinity.

"AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking – a first in the industry – that both inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them, and deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes," wrote Apple in a statement to CNET. "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."

Samsung users may scan for nearby unknown Galaxy SmartTags using the SmartThings Find app, but the app will not proactively alert them. Samsung's tags also routinely change their device IDs to prevent their Bluetooth signals from being tracked over long periods of time. User data is also encrypted. Samsung would not say whether the company plans to add a proactive alert feature but commented that it is "committed to providing secure mobile experiences to users."

Tile users cannot scan for nearby tags that don't belong to them, but the company is planning to launch a feature this year making that possible. The new Scan and Secure feature would enable anyone to search for nearby Tile tags using the Tile app, even if they do not have an account. The company said it is working with privacy experts and advocacy organizations as it develops the new feature.




Edited by Luke Bellos

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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