Monday, April 11, 2022 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Police Records on AirTag Stalking

Samantha Cole:

Of the 150 total police reports mentioning AirTags, in 50 cases women called the police because they started getting notifications that their whereabouts were being tracked by an AirTag they didn’t own. Of those, 25 could identify a man in their lives—ex-partners, husbands, bosses—who they strongly suspected planted the AirTags on their cars in order to follow and harass them. Those women reported that current and former intimate partners—the most likely people to harm women overall—are using AirTags to stalk and harass them.

Via Bruce Schneier:

Eight police departments over eight months yielded fifty cases. And that’s only where the victim (1) realized they were being tracked by someone else’s AirTag, and (2) contacted the police. That’s going to multiply out to a lot of AirTag stalking in the country, and the world.

I don’t know what to make of these numbers. No doubt there are lots of cases not involving AirTag. And we don’t know how many stalkers were using AirTag but not detected. Does these cases being linked to AirTag mean that the notification feature is working, at least to an extent? Can we extrapolate how many unreported Android victims there might be, given that (presumably) few Android users are regularly running the Tracker Detect app?

Previously:

10 Comments

At its root this is a social problem, not a technological one. Nevertheless, it begs a question: How much money does a company like Apple have to make to override the moral hazard, and the material harm done to real people by a product. AirTags are just one example.

Apple should kill this product. They can't pretend to care about privacy and sell a toll that is being used by stalkers at the same time. It's a clearcut either or.

I don't think we can draw any conclusions from this data. You can go into any pet store and buy a pet tracker that works much, much better than AirTags, and provides absolutely no technical way for the victim to figure out that they're being tracked.

So there are two possible interpretations of this data:

1. Stalkers are too stupid to use more effective technology, and AirTags have enabled them to do something they were previously incapable of doing. If that's the case, then yes, Apple should kill AirTags, because the availability of AirTags has made stalking victims a lot more vulnerable.

2. Stalkers have always used technology like this to track their victims, and we're only becoming fully aware of this now because AirTags have at least some anti-stalking features. In this case, Apple should *not* kill AirTags, because AirTags have actually made stalking victims slightly less vulnerable.

Is it 1. or 2.? At this point, we don't know.

Gotta be 2 and also "tracker from company you've never heard of got abused" isn't as big of a story.

Regardless, the question is: if most stories about AirTags are of this kind, does it really make sense for Apple to keep the product around? "Isn't that the product I keep reading concerning stories about" isn't really the reputation Apple wants, and Apple has given third parties an API anyway, so at that point, is it just some VP's pet project?

Isn't this a technological problem Apple can solve? I do not recall seeing this issue pop up with Tile. Is there a difference in the way the two work/sync that I'm missing?

@Chris I think it’s not really a technological problem (because privacy and utility are in opposition) and that the same issues apply to Tile (we just have less visibility into the abuses).

So let's get rid of cars, because people use cars to do bad things all the time. In the US alone, nearly 40,000 people are killed due to cars every year.

Old Unix Geek

The problem seems to be the size and cost of AirTags. People wouldn't do this with an iPhone and "find my phone". The cost and size of it would be prohibitive for most.

So perhaps Apple would have done better to partner with a luggage company and require visible warning text on the inside. Then if someone walks off a train with your luggage, you'd know. It could also inform you if the luggage were opened/punctured. But it'd be much harder to use it for stalking someone since you'd have to first convince them to use it.

But, as Plume says, if Apple gets rid of them now, I'd expect someone else would try to make harder to detect devices...

"So let's get rid of cars, because people use cars to do bad things all the time. In the US alone, nearly 40,000 people are killed due to cars every year."

I understand that you're joking, but if cars weren't so incredibly useful, and absolutely necessary for society to function, they *would* be illegal, given the brutal cost they impose on society - not just the direct deaths from car crashes, but also indirect deaths from pollution, the destruction of cities caused by the need to build roads and parking spots, the noise pollution they create, and so on.

With all of these things, we balance cost and benefit.

> So let's get rid of cars

Get rid, no. Significantly reduce, yeah, we should probably do that. Cities like Amsterdam, Kopenhagen and Paris have by all accounts seen quality of life improvements.

>The problem seems to be the size and cost of AirTags. People wouldn't do this with an iPhone and "find my phone". The cost and size of it would be prohibitive for most.

Heh. An Apple product whose problem is that it's too cheap. :)

I just don't see the path where this product suddenly becomes one people primarily talk about positively. Not because it's a bad product (though, come on, the design could have used a little hole), but because the privacy-utility tradeoff is hard to get right.

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