back to article Women sue Apple claiming AirTags helped their stalkers

Apple is being sued on behalf of two women who allege that the company's AirTag tracking devices violated their privacy by allowing them to be stalked. The complaint [PDF], filed in Northern California District Court in San Francisco on Monday, claims that Apple misrepresented the dangers of AirTags by calling them "stalker- …

  1. jemmyww

    I would be particularly keen to hear what a judge thinks about the argument that you can only effectively prevent stalking by air tag if you own an iPhone. It seems to me an American judge is more likely to consider the monopolist economic argument.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Android phones can download an app to see if there is an Airtag nearby.

      This is no different than someone using a Tile to stalk you, there you have to download an app on Android or iPhone to see if one is stalking you.

      If someone stalks you with one of the standalone GPS tracking devices there is no app you can download, you have to search your car including the engine bay, under the seats, the wheel wells etc. etc. and there is no assurance you didn't miss it.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        The battery on a GPS tracker is only likely to last a few days. Much more bulky too.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          If you're willing to spend money on the problem, there are devices designed to get around those obstacles. Devices which can be attached to a car and draw power from it, devices designed to run intermittently to extend running time, particularly efficient devices that run for longer than consumer-grade navigation chips do, etc. Not that you can get something standalone as efficient as an AirTag, but they're not as limited as you might hope.

          1. AbominableCodeman

            You don't even have to spend that much money if you're handy with ESP32/8266 and a soldering iron, you can knock up a sub-25 mm3 GPS module that will run for months off a 1000mAh Lipo, consisting of off the shelf parts for less than $10.

            1. Emir Al Weeq

              Does that cost and battery life include the radio that you'll need to forward the GPS info to whomever needs it?

              1. doublelayer Silver badge

                The cost probably doesn't, but you can put on a module to connect to a phone network and send the data in SMS or use the existing WiFi in the mentioned chips. The mobile system will cost more including service for it, but battery life won't be increased much if the data is stored and the device briefly enabled to send it in a batch.

                Also, it's worth considering that the anecdotes we've seen haven't involved someone being stalked for months on end. A lot of the stuff that's come out has been short-term stalking over hours or days, for which month-long battery life is less important.

                1. Emir Al Weeq

                  Thanks.

                  I had wondered about bulk upload over mobile but not WiFi. I can think of a few use cases where WiFi would work.

                2. flayman Bronze badge

                  The cases mentioned are one thing, but I have my own reservations that are separate. My biggest reservation is that these are very easy to hide and can operate for many months without being retrieved or detected because they work on near field communication. To my mind, that makes them worse than other tracking devices. They are also relatively cheap and don't require the owner having to pay for mobile network access as part of their operation.

                  1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                    Yes, the issue is aggravated by AirTags because they're readily available, easy for non-technical attackers to use, and make use of Apple's device network. There may be no qualitative difference between an AirTag and many other types of trackers for this (ab)use case, but there are quantitative ones.

                    That said, I don't really see how those might be actionable under US law. IANAL, but it really seems like this is a revenge effect that it would be difficult to hold Apple liable for. It's not designed primarily for illegal use, and it doesn't seem to directly violate consumer-protection and similar laws.

                    I quite dislike this sort of device myself, and I have tremendous sympathy for anyone who's harassed or attacked in any way with the assistance of one. But I can't see an effective legal argument against them.

                    1. flayman Bronze badge

                      Could the device maybe render itself disabled?

                      I think there may be an aspect of negligence, which may also be exacerbated by false claims. It's arguable. I've been thinking a lot about this over the past couple days and it seems to me that this type of service could have been designed better with stalking in mind. As I've already said in other comments, my biggest gripe is the ease of concealment and length of serviceability on the same battery.

                      With the "anti-stalking" features of triggering the unwanted tracking alert and recoginising that it is moving for a period of time outside the presence of the owner, the device could disable itself after, say, a couple days or maybe a week. The owner should get alerted while it's on the move within that time period, thus helping the owner to track it. If it's not retrieved and reset in some way other than close proximity within that time, it's out of action until then reset. Maybe it's not the device that needs resetting, but the instance of Find My Network, so maybe it can still send out beacons, but those will stop being displayed for the owner.

                      Granted that Apple do seem to have taken greater steps to discourage stalking than other device manufacturers and those that operate outside the Find My Network service, but more ought to have been envisaged. IMHO, all similar devices should operate as I've described in order to minimise abuse. If you haven't located your lost device within a reasonable period of time, then you haven't really been paying attention. If that doesn't sit well, then let's allow for the location to still be discoverable through a more rigorous process perhaps involving the authorities.

            2. sreynolds

              Meh and ESP could just scan the wifi networks periodically.

              Us muppets didn't make those things random enough - ie random MAC addresses and 6 bits of entropy in the SSID name should have been mandated from the start.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No iPhome ==No stalking

      It seems likely that the stalkee having an iPhone enables the stalker. Without the GPS of a phone to correlate to the tags location, there's no way you're tracking this thing past a 1/10 of a mile... and that's direct line of sight with no radio interference. There's really nothing special about a AirTag Vs. BLE anyhing. Of course you can't rule out stalkers driving up and down streets looking for pings but, at that point it's well beyond sanity so the inevitable will occur.

      1. rajivdx

        Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

        Ummm... no iPhone means you can be stalked without your knowledge. The AirTag will still use the nearest available iPhone to locate and report its location. This will not be detected as stalking as the AirTag is not consistently associated with any 1 iPhone. The point you made is valid only if you live in the middle of nowhere with no iPhones for the AirTag to reach out to, but in a city you'll easily pass an iPhone on the road or public transport.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

          Am I correct in my understanding that the tag initiates a Bluetooth connection with a device that I might own and creates a channel through my device without my instigation or permission? (or similarly, that software runs on my device at all times promiscuous trying to contact any passing tag?)

          Isn't behaviour like that covered under various computer misuse statues? Can it be turned off? I don't own any apple kit so I am concerned second-hand, as it were, merely seeking education.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

            "Am I correct in my understanding that the tag initiates a Bluetooth connection with a device that I might own and creates a channel through my device without my instigation or permission?"

            Basically, yes. It's not a direct connection since it's sending out a beacon, but the phone would see that and act on it automatically.

            "Isn't behaviour like that covered under various computer misuse statues?"

            Not if you agree to it in the EULA, and you can be assured their lawyers put something in. It only runs on iPhones, and iPhones only run if you agree to the license. I'm unaware of any related laws that require more specific consent for such things, but you'd need one in order for the process to be illegal.

            "Can it be turned off?"

            Yes. On IOS devices: Settings -> Apple ID -> Find My -> Find My iPhone -> turn Find My Network to off.

          2. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

            Your iPhone can be used to find other lost iPhones or lost AirTags. At no point is any information about you or your iPhone sent to anyone. And in exchange you can use the same service - when you lose your phone you will be happy if some other iPhone spots it.

            Basically, there is an iPhone somewhere in the woods shouting "Help, I'm lost". You are nearby by chance, and your phone tells Apple "there is an iPhone here shouting it is lost". Others do the exact same thing for you.

            1. flayman Bronze badge

              Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

              An iPhone is an expensive piece of kit that no one in their right mind (and there's another conversation) is going to hide in another person's effects for the purposes of stalking. An AirTag is much less expensive and also much easier to conceal.

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

                It also works with AirPods, and no doubt soon even expensive Apple cables and accessories - dongles, chargers, styli / pencils, keyboards, mice etc.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

              it sent your IP/other network identifier and location, so information was sent about you.

              how do people not understand even just endpoint information is information that can yield data points.

              1. gnasher729 Silver badge

                Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

                I'll try to explain this.

                There are Apple products that _intentionally_ send out information through low power bluetooth. That's mostly iPhones that are lost, AirPods that are lost, AirTags that you attached to things that got lost. Somehow that information has to get from the device to the owner of the device. And here Apple has this fleet of about a billion "lost item detectors". Your phone, my phone, everyone's phone is a "lost item detector". If your phone comes near to a lost device calling for help, it sends the location to Apple who sends it to the owner. The information is encrypted so that nobody knows whose phone was sending it, and nobody other than the owner of the lost device can know that their device is at some specified point.

                So yes, if your phone is lost and you are lucky and I just come near to the place where your phone is, my phone calls Apple who calls you and tells you where your phone is.

                Or do you think Apple has thought of a system that tells it where my phone is, but only if someone loses their phone next to me? Does that make any sense to anyone?

                1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

                  Your phone, my phone, everyone's phone is a "lost item detector".

                  Mine isn't, and indeed this is one of a number of reasons why I don't buy Apple devices.

                  If my phone is lost, it stays lost. And locked. As it happens, I have never, in a couple of decades of owning mobile phones of some sort, lost one. Nor did I ever lose the pager I had before that. But if I did, that's a loss I'll live with.

                  I've read Matt Green's speculative piece on how Apple's "Find My" feature works. Green is a smart guy and a good security engineer and cryptographer, and he thinks Apple's solution is probably pretty good from a security point of view. But it's something I, for one, do not need and do not want.

        2. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

          I think they will use a bit of cleverness to determine if the AirTags near you or the ones on the car keys of the guy sitting besides you on the bus, or something that follows you. In principle the guy with an AirTag on his car keys might be stalking you, and your iPhone tells you that the same AirTag is always close to you (without being used for stalking at all; your stalker wants to find his car keys if he or she loses them).

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

            I would hope the beacon signal can be recorded and would encode the device type and the associated AppleID. OK, so only law enforcement should be able to decode the AppleID bit, but if you get a ping you should be able to know what kind of device it is that you are looking for. AirTags are easily concealed - I saw once photo where it was mostly encased in black silicon mastic - presumably then stuck into a wheel well of a car under the floor mat where it blended in with the undercoat / waterproofing.

            1. gnasher729 Silver badge

              Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

              Law enforcement doesn't get anything. If _your_ phone is lost then _you_ can get told by Apple where someone spotted your phone. Only you. I can't go through the country and pick up lost iPhones. Only my own one.

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: No iPhome ==No stalking

                So that the AIRTAGs can be identified by some law enforcement agency rather than having to go through Apple to get the information to discover who is planting the tags and tracking a person. You get warned that there's a device travelling with you that's not registered to you... that warning must be generated on the basis of data that your phone is receiving. these data should be logged and recorded. That's what I'm saying. That those data should be logged, recorded and available to the authorities independently of Apple should someone wish to pursue a complaint.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If you don't own an iphone ...

      ... you are poor and deserve to be stalked.

      Want to protect yourself and your children, get an iPhone.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > As far as The Register has been able to determine, the phrase "stalker-proof" has not been attributed directly to any Apple executive in any of the cited articles. The phrase appears without quotes in the Fast Company article subhead, indicating that it's an editorial construct, and within quotes by the articles citing the original interview, presumably to credit the phrase to the source interview.

    Indeed.

  3. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    WTF?

    What's that?

    This article is not great reading for someone who does not have any knowledge of Apple products and could not care less to find out. So WTF is an AirTag and how is it stalker-proof / not stalker-proof. The words "stalker-proof" appear 6 times without even a hint on what it does or why it turned out not to be stalker-proof in the end.

    (Possibly it is described in episode 2 of the article, but I got so fed up with reading the first part that I just scanned part II to see if it contained anything of interest for Apple-ignorant readers to make sense of what is being said).

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: What's that?

      I'll answer your question, but if you want to know what an AirTag is and haven't heard of it, you could always read the Wikipedia summary of it.

      An AirTag is Apple's version of a Bluetooth tracker, similar to Tile or Samsung tags if you are familiar with those. You attach the small unit to something you want to know the location of. If it's nearby, your device interacts with the tag to give you location information such as making it beep or showing you a map. Because they're using Bluetooth, they also have a feature that uses other people's phones to look out for a tag that's not connected to your device, such as on something you've left elsewhere. The other person's phone reads an ID number from the tag and reports its location, so you can get a report of where the tag and hopefully the item you connected to it is now even though you are not nearby.

      Since it can report the location of something you're not near, that could also be something that doesn't belong to you, like somebody else's car. The concern is that someone who wants to stalk a person could use this device to report on their location via iPhones around them. Apple has put in some safeguards to make this harder, but they're not about to make it impossible because that would break the product idea. That should bring you up to the stuff in the article, although if you want more details, there's more in the second part you didn't read and some older articles about the issue would be relevant as well.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's that?

        > I'll answer your question, but if you want to know what an AirTag is and haven't heard of it, you could always read the Wikipedia summary of it.

        But he's right though that the information should be contained in the article, if nothing else to describe the state of the technology at the time the article was written, for the benefit of future readers.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: What's that?

          How far does that need to go? The AirTag has been in existence for a year and nine months by this point, and its release and the controversy about misuse has been extensively covered here and elsewhere throughout that time. At what point does a fact become covered enough that summarizing it becomes redundant? If the article also paused to explain what an iPhone is, I would be bored with the unnecessary information.

          Also, I note that the article did briefly explain what they were. For example, the third sentence contains this phrase: "concerns surfaced about how the coin-sized tracking devices could be abused". That's not a detailed review, but it should at least answer the question "What is an AirTag?". The article also links to three earlier El Reg articles covering the controversy and points mentioned, any of which would give useful background to the uninformed reader. Why are these things not enough?

      2. very angry man

        Re: What's that?

        Can i get an "air tag" for my mind? I keep miss placing it and i am very fond of it, as i have had it for quite a while now.

        I dont have an apple fone, I used to have a mobile phone but i missplaced that to, perhaps i can get one for that as wall.

        I dont know how well an air tag would work for my mind as there's not much air there ot tag, but lots of free open spaces so. i amagine it would be very easy to loose it in all that space, may be they could put a flashing light on it so you can find it

        1. Nifty

          Re: What's that?

          I've attached one to my marbles.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: What's that?

          I dated Miss Placing for a few months in high school. I was very fond of her too.

    2. Danny 14

      Re: What's that?

      air-tag = thing

      thing sends out bluetooth beacons

      iphone = gadget

      gadget has an OS

      OS has a function to listen for bluetooth beacons

      when an airtag beacon is heard the gadget sends its location to the internet overlord masters

      internet overlord masters can update owners of thing with the location given by gadget

      if you too have a gadget then you get a notice if there are things around you that have been there for "an extended period of time" talking to the internet overlord masters

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Boffin

    Find My? AirTags...

    Case use. Where we live, I use Find My to monitor my wife and son when they are in transit on the mountainous roads that would have Jackie Stewart asking for new knickers. The local garage has a new roll over victim every couple of months.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Find My? AirTags...

      > I use Find My to monitor my wife and son when they are in transit on the mountainous roads

      How does it work? Presumably via their own phones, assuming there's mobile coverage?

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Find My? AirTags...

        "How does it work? Presumably via their own phones, assuming there's mobile coverage"

        As long as their phone has power, and connectivity, it would be done that way. When power runs low, the phone turns itself off (mostly) but can send a signal through Bluetooth low power. It doesn't know its location at that point because you really don't want to spend energy and GPS is expensive. If anyone else with an iPhone comes nearby, they detect the phone is there. If their phone has GPS turned on, then they know the location. So they send the location of the phone to apple, either immediately, or when they get back to civilisation and get connectivity. Of course they would send the location where your phone was, not where they are right now.

    2. Ribfeast

      Re: Find My? AirTags...

      I do the same with my partner, we both have Find My enabled, with locations explicitly shared to each other. Comes in very handy, but can certainly see how it could be misused.

    3. Politically Correct

      Re: Find My? AirTags...

      One of the cases in court was about a man putting an air-tag into his own daughter's backpack. I can't imagine a judge ruling that that constitutes stalking however much his estranged wife might want it to be.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Find My? AirTags...

        It depends. How old, does he have parental responsibility etc.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Find My? AirTags...

          Governing jurisdiction matters, too. Not everyone who reads the Reg answers to the same set of courts.

    4. sabroni Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: I use Find My to monitor my wife and son

      Do they know about it or are you one of the creepy stalkers from the article?

  5. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    Lawsuit has no merit.

    Apple has never claimed AirTags are 'stalker-proof', but HAS gone to great lengths to make them substantially LESS effective at stalking than any of the nameless Bluetooth and GPS trackers out there. They have a whole suite of service restrictions designed to effectively neuter attempts to use AirTags to track a person, or even to track an object that doesn't belong to you.

    To the extent that using an AirTag as an anti-THEFT device (e.g. built into a bicycle) is effectively pointless, because it will (a) alert the thief directly that he/she is being followed by an AirTag that doesn't belong to them, (b) guide them with great precision to exactly WHERE the AirTag is located on the item they nicked, and (c) give them detailed instructions on how to disable and permanently deactivate it.

    I bought AirTags with the specific purpose of theft-tagging my property, and was deeply disappointed to discover that they are to all intents and purposes useless for this purpose. Served me right for not reading the documentation before I bought them.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      It's unfortunate, but an AirTag obviously can't know if you attached it to your own car or to your pretty neighbour's car. I guess there could be a technological plus law change: Apple allows you to mark an AirTag as an anti-theft device so it doesn't warn a thief. At the same time, if you use an "anti-theft" AirTag for stalking and get caught, any sentence will be tripled.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        "It's unfortunate, but an AirTag obviously can't know if you attached it to your own car or to your pretty neighbour's car."

        It absolutely can, and in fact that's key to how AirTags work. It uses the proximity of your iDevices (iPhone, iPad, iWatch, Mac) to determine whether it is still with you; if yes, it stays quiet and is trackable by you only.

        If your AirTag becomes separated from your devices, it assumes you are not with it. It will then use an algorithm (including motion and proximity sensors) to determine whether it is moving, moving with multiple other people (e.g. in your bag on a bus), or whether it appears to be travelling in close proximity to a specific person who is NOT it's owner. It does this by listening out for electronic devices including other iPhones, Android phones, smartwatches, any device which communicates through Bluetooth BLE.

        If it determines it is travelling with a specific person, it switches into anti-stalking mode and starts broadcasting a signal to the device(s) nearby that (1) it is an AirTag which can track location, (2) it has been travelling with that device for some time, and (3) these are the instructions to locate it and switch it off. It also starts to beep, to allow people without a smart device that can show detailed messages (e.g. a watch) to locate and disable it.

        On a smartphone (iPhone or Android), it also shows a map of where it's been and how long it has been with that device/person, and provides a link with (abbreviated) information about the owner, which can either be used to return it if in error (e.g. you picked up somebody else's suitcase at the airport by mistake), or to provide to law enforcement if you believe it is being used to track you.

        It's actually a very well executed system.

        1. DwarfPants
          Coat

          I think the points being made as far a anti-theft is concerned

          - Most people don't leave their phone attached to the thing they don't want stolen, as they are trying to minimise their losses, using an air tag instead. As the phone/device is not near the air tag it goes in to anti stalker mode alerting the thief to the presence of the air tag, dramatically reducing its efficiency as a covert property tracking device.

          - Things are generally stolen when you are not standing next to them, muggings and robbery being the obvious exceptions. In these scenarios loss of property might be the least of your concerns.

        2. flayman Bronze badge

          A) Not everyone lives in this hyper-connected world of carrying digital devices on their person at all times.

          B) Of those who do, not everyone has an Apple device or knows to download the Android app, which you then have to run in the background at all times.

          C) Of those who still make the cut, sometimes people go out without their phones. It does happen.

          D) Oh yeah, you'd also better make sure you never run out of battery if you care about being stalked.

          It's not a well executed system, because your hypothetical grandmother with her Nokia 3210, is helpless and not even considered.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Thanks for the description.

        4. blackcat Silver badge

          "It also starts to beep"

          Lots of guides on how to remove the beep. And they keep working once it has been removed. Very quick and easy.

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            True: and I’ve ‘defanged’ all my AirTags in similar ways (which interestingly makes them legally controversial where I live).

            They’re still easy to track down electronically though, which as an ‘anti-lost’ device is of course what they’re intended for.

            1. blackcat Silver badge

              If you're not tech-savvy or don't have an myphone (assume its pinging through another myphone) it might not be that easy to find a well hidden tag.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > obviously can't know if you attached it to your own car or to your pretty neighbour's car

        Have you seen my neighbour? She's very much stalking proof.

    2. flayman Bronze badge

      Let's talk about all the things you wrote which are wrong...

      "Lawsuit has not merit."

      Lawsuit is two-pronged. As the article states, the complaint about affirmatively misleading the public is tenuous. "But when it comes to stalking itself..." Yes, that's more on point.

      "...substantially LESS effective at stalking than any of the nameless Bluetooth and GPS trackers out there"

      All of which have a direct connection to a mobile service as opposed to relaying through near field contact. Because of this, the battery life on those devices is much less and/or they are bulkier. Maybe a couple weeks. AirTags can work for up to around a year on the same battery. You can potentially stalk someone for a year and collect detailed data on their movements without them knowing or you having to retrieve the device.

    3. Danny 14

      we use them on our luggage. it works really well.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      Anti theft

      I tagged my bike, using a mount that hides it under the water bottle cage and therefore requires some effort (and tools) to remove. Not just any tools, I replaced the standard torx machine screws in the cage with torx security screws, which require a different driver people are less likely to have on hand.

      I figure if someone steals my bike and they have an iPhone they will get the "an air tag is following you" message and either they panic that I might be tracking them and dump it, or they go somewhere where they have tools - assuming they have the RIGHT tools - and can remove it. Even if there is only a 15% chance of the first outcome that's still 15% better than if I hadn't tagged it. If they don't have an iPhone and don't run the app on their Android to check for Air Tags they won't know and I'll be able to have the police show up at their house to retrieve it.

      I'm not worried about my bike being stolen when it is at home, when it is away from home I'm never all that far away from it so I would realize pretty quickly it had been stolen and be able to check Find My to figure out where it is - likely before the thief would have time to grab a torx security driver of the appropriate size and remove it.

      I figure all told I've probably doubled the chance of recovering my bike if it is stolen. Hopefully I never have to find out, but for $30 it was cheap insurance.

    5. martinusher Silver badge

      The reason for this lawsuit is Apple is a) large and b) has deep pockets.

      There's lots of other stalker enabling technologies out there, from a pair of shoes on up.

  6. flayman Bronze badge

    Like Google Glass, privacy was barely an afterthought.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Wrong.

      I mean - in many cases involving tech companies you'd be correct, but specifically as far as AirTags are concerned, wrong. Extreme efforts have been made to make it as private as possible, including (in my view) deeply compromising its ability to be used for its ACTUAL purpose; tracking my stuff.

      It's essentially useless as an anti-theft device (what I wanted it for), and useless and risky to a stalker, because it will alert the victim AND provide owner information to the victim+law enforcement on who it belongs to and where it's been.

      1. flayman Bronze badge

        Exteme, huh? Like yeah, if I own an iPhone then it won't track me. But I don't own an iPhone. "But you can download an app for Android...". So I have to be a smart phone user in order to have a claim to privacy when out in public?

        No. It's that kind of thinking that is wrong.

        A person going about their business in public without a phone cannot help that there are loads of people around them who are carrying iPhones which will, without their consent, relay the coordinates of the stealth device they do not realise they are carrying. And they are not capable of giving or withholding consent, unlike the iPhone owners who have agreed to the EULA.

        As someone who is now aware that this could be a problem, I may choose to scour my belongings looking for such hidden devices like some paranoid lunatic. The claimants in this lawsuit were never aware such a thing could happen to them, nor should this be expected. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy there.

        1. flayman Bronze badge

          If you're going to thumb me down, then please reply and explain how any of the points I'm making in any of my replies are incorrect. Or do you genuinely not care about people who fit the cases I describe? If I'm correct, then the privacy points are not at all unlike Google Glass, where the privacy rights of unknown third parties, facing the prospect of video of themselves in public being surreptitiously captured and stored, seem never to have entered the thought process.

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Pretty much everything you wrote was wrong.

          2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            ”Like Google Glass, privacy was barely an afterthought.“

            No. AirTags were designed from the ground up with privacy as the default.

            Like yeah, if I own an iPhone then it won't track me.

            No. Whether you own an iPhone or not has no bearing on your ‘trackability’.

            But I don't own an iPhone. "But you can download an app for Android...". So I have to be a smart phone user in order to have a claim to privacy when out in public?

            No. In addition to the ‘smart’ features, AirTags emit an audible signal when they believe they are being used to track an individual, or property which does not belong to the AirTag owner. You also only need to download the app if you want to disable or otherwise manage the AirTag; you will receive the tracking notification regardless of whether you have installed an app or not.

            A person going about their business in public without a phone cannot help that there are loads of people around them who are carrying iPhones which will, without their consent, relay the coordinates of the stealth device they do not realise they are carrying.

            No. Once an AirTag has determined it is being used to track an individual, it will do it’s best to render itself unusable for that purpose. AirTags do not continually ‘broadcast’ their location; they don’t have the battery power for that (1x CR2032, designed to last a year). They report their location, on demand.

            If you as a person have gone to extreme lengths to detach yourself from modern society including not owning a smartphone, AND nobody around you carries a smartphone either; AND you have disabled your own ears, then you might be trackable; by AirTags or any of the tens of thousands of tracking devices out there. Except all those other devices would be much better at it than AirTags.

            The claimants in this lawsuit were never aware such a thing could happen to them, nor should this be expected. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy there.

            There is a reasonable expectation, which is being safeguarded more by Apple than any of the tens of thousands of manufacturers of tracking devices out there; practically none of whom integrate the anti-stalking features I’ve described above.

            If you're going to thumb me down, then please reply and explain how any of the points I'm making in any of my replies are incorrect. Or do you genuinely not care about people who fit the cases I describe?

            You are being aggressive and easily triggered. People tend not to engage with attitudes like that.

            If I'm correct, then the privacy points are not at all unlike Google Glass, where the privacy rights of unknown third parties, facing the prospect of video of themselves in public being surreptitiously captured and stored, seem never to have entered the thought process.

            As explained patiently, several times, by multiple commenters above, privacy is central to the AirTag designers’ thought processes. They have taken the concept of protecting privacy as far - in fact further - than is compatible with a device who’s primary purpose is to track belongings. In fact, Apple have substantially compromised the core functionality of the device in order to safeguard privacy, and effectively cut themselves out of a MAJOR AirTag market - theft prevention - because of their privacy restrictions.

            I trust this adequately explains why you’re being downvoted.

            1. flayman Bronze badge

              I asked you to explain why I was wrong, and instead you said "Pretty much everything you wrote was wrong." That makes me angry, and yeah a little aggressive, and I care a lot about privacy. And I don't think it's been multiple commenters. I think it's been one.

              How does the device determine that it's travelling with a specific person and therefore go into anti-stalking mode? This is something I still have not seen adequately explained, and it seems to me that there would need to be a qualifying device that was consistently near it.

              "As of April 2022, at least 150 police reports have been filed claiming stalking involving an AirTag, the complaint says, arguing that the actual number of such incidents is likely much higher." Perhaps changes made in February improved the situation, but that speaks against privacy being the central design factor.

              You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick. You made your choice. That said, I really would like to be reassured that this wasn't some colossally poorly thought out product.

              1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                I’ve explained it all above, including how the AirTag ‘knows’ it’s with a stranger as opposed to it’s owner.

                The 150 reports simply mean somebody saw Apple and smelt $$$. Apple have sold millions of AirTags; orders of magnitude more than any other tracking devices from any other single manufacturer. It speaks to nothing more than some lawyers seeing a very juicy target for malicious litigation.

                1. flayman Bronze badge

                  Here's how you explained it above:

                  "...or whether it appears to be travelling in close proximity to a specific person who is NOT it's owner. It does this by listening out for electronic devices including other iPhones, Android phones, smartwatches, any device which communicates through Bluetooth BLE."

                  At that point, according to Apple's support page, what happens is that if you have an iPhone, iPad or similar device with Bluetooth turned on, you'll receive notifications that you're being tracked. In order to receive notifications you apparently also need to turn on Location Services and Find My iPhone, which seems odd to me.

                  It also says if you don't have one of these devices and the AirTag is on the move without its owner for a period of time, it will emit a sound. However, I've seen that the audible alert can be permanently disabled. This earlier article posted at the time of the privacy updates reveals that AirTags with silenced speakers were being sold online: https://www.theregister.com/2022/02/11/apple_airtags_stalking/

                  You even say, or am I misreading this, that you did this yourself: "True: and I’ve ‘defanged’ all my AirTags in similar ways (which interestingly makes them legally controversial where I live)."

                  150 police reports of stalking means 150 separate incidents were reported to police. That's a lot, and probably there were many more incidents that weren't. Unless you think that all the people who reported the incidents to the police are looking for compensation, I really don't understand that remark. You didn't address my observation about the 1 year battery life, as opposed to other tracking devices which have a direct connection to mobile services.

                  As for law enforcement, it all depends on what the law of the land says. It may well be risky to a stalker, but steps can be taken to reduce the risk to arguably acceptable levels. The one thing that I cannot get past is the near field aspect of this service. It allows the power consumption requirements for a working device to be minimal, allowing it to remain serviceable for many months at a time.

                  Bottom line is that I'm still not reassured. If there's anything that I'm still not getting I'd really like to know.

                  1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                    It’s been explained well enough. If that’s not enough for you, well… some people can’t be taught. I’m certainly not prepared to invest any more time in it, so I suggest you either research on your own time, or learn to live with your discomfort.

                    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

                      Thanks for your explanation.

                      It proves they were right. Air Tags are effective stalking devices.

                      As several people already mentioned, a stalker can trivially disable the beep. Which would increase the battery life too!

                      A victim can thus only detect they are being stalked in this manner if they own an iPhone and enable certain tracking features, or an Android phone and install a specific app and give it access to tracking features.

                      Or when the stalker turns up on their doorstep, I guess, which is rather too late.

                      If you don't understand that, I'm sorry, and I suggest you re-read the explanations.

                      1. Falmari Silver badge

                        Re: Thanks for your explanation.

                        @Richard 12 "a stalker can trivially disable the beep"

                        Or a stalker can just hide the AirTag where the beep won't be heard. Probably the same places stalkers would hide an AirTag that did not beep their victims car.

                        Apple webpage https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212227

                        "an AirTag that isn't with its owner for a period of time will emit a sound when it's moved. "

                        You are not going to hear the beep from a moving car unless the AirTag is inside the driver/ passenger section. Then again neither is a car thief

                      2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                        Re: Thanks for your explanation.

                        @Richard 12

                        The real issue here is: is an AirTag a better or worse stalking device than any of the tens of thousands of generic BLE tracking tags or GPS devices out there - some of which are intended - explicitly or implicitly - for the purpose of tracking people without their knowledge.

                        The answer is that AirTags are way less effective than any of these devices, and significantly more dangerous for a stalker in that they MUST be linked to a valid Apple ID which stores information on where it was activated, where it's been and when it's been accessed - all of which is valuable information for law enforcement. Even if the account is burned, the data is still available and can be provided to law enforcement by Apple if a person brings a stalking lawsuit.

                    2. flayman Bronze badge

                      You really are something special, aren't you.

                    3. flayman Bronze badge

                      Dear Lord,

                      You wasted some more of your precious time replying to something I wrote for someone else with a comment that was actually helpful. And I read it and learned something. Then you deleted it, wasting even more time. I'm trying to work out what this says about you. I still have a copy of it, by the way.

                      So Apple weren't the first. I honestly had no idea. And Samsung is worse. And others are worse still. In that case, I take your point about Apple being the biggest target. I'd never heard of any of these devices before reading yesterday's article. Now I know. My assessment is that all of these devices are bad. Should be banned. End of. In fact I'm surprised there hasn't been a huge stink in the EU over it. It needs to go back to the drawing board, because none of these, with the way they operate, were designed with privacy at the forefront. Apple may have taken better steps than others, but the entire concept is fundamentally flawed.

                      Love always,

                      Flay Man

                      EDIT: Oh you're back. With updates. Edit correction wasn't enough?

              2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
                Facepalm

                "You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick."

                New to the Internet are we?

                1. sabroni Silver badge
                  Thumb Up

                  re: You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick.

                  The tricky bit, mastered by years of reg commenting, is pretending to do the first while doing the second!!

                  1. flayman Bronze badge

                    Re: re: You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick.

                    I have no doubt there are many differences between myself and the smug f**ker that this remark was aimed at. Chief among them for the purposes of this debate, and also the source of my anger and frustration, is that I actually want to be convinced that I'm wrong. I have done the research and I'm still not convinced, so alas it seems I must learn to live with my discomfort. Because I'm one of these people who can't be taught, you see.

                    Plenty of other devices exist which allow unsuspecting victims to have their locations tracked. This is a societal problem. I don't blame the satellites or the masts. I don't even blame the device makers except in this case. There are good and legal uses for these devices. Misuse of such devices is typically a crime. In the case of Apple AirTags however, I see a sea change. As far as I can see, other live GPS trackers require a connection to a mobile service provider. That makes them instantly more costly and also bulkier and with a reduced battery life.

                    Apple's vast infrastructure, mainly relying on their vast customer base with direct connections to mobile networks, is being used to facilitate the service. This has allowed them to manufacture and sell a device which is small enough to be easily concealed, despite the bolt on "anti-stalking" features, and capable of functioning for a vastly extended period of time. To my admittedly feeble and unteachable mind, that makes Apple partly culpable for its misuse.

                    I've read Apple's announcement in February that the earlier Reg article was about. It seems that the software updates were mainly focused on alleviating the problem of unwanted tracking alerts received for benign reasons. Of course. A software update affecting iPhones and the Find My Network couldn't actually serve to make the AirTag device itself less trackable outside acceptable use. Other updates in February include documentation changes explaining what unwanted tracking alerts can mean and what the acceptable uses of AirTags are. Also that using them for unacceptable purposes is most likely a crime. Thanks. That's good to know.

                    If we take people who carry Apple devices with them out of the frame, I don't believe the anti-stalking feature of the audible beep is good enough given that it can be disabled. We don't know whether it was disabled, but It clearly wasn't good enough to prevent its misuse in the cases featured in the current article or the 150 or so other cases reported to police, presumably only in the United States, including one case involving a homicide. But I'll just have to get over my discomfort somehow. My discomfort is for other people, so I can at least console myself with this.

                    1. This post has been deleted by its author

                    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                      Re: re: You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick.

                      Touchy touchy ;-p

                      Chipolo and Samsung Galaxy Smart Tags are two examples of devices which are practically identical to AirTags in spec and operation (very small, extremely low power consumption, battery life measured in years, uses a network of common smart devices to do the location heavy lifting). They share most of the pros of AirTags, but are significantly more 'abusable' in that they omit or obscure many of the built in anti-stalking measures in the interests of greater sales numbers.

                      Tile (https://uk.tile.com) is also a major player in the market, and arguably way worse in that if you do not have the Tile app installed, you will never be aware this device is with you. It is anonymous and invisible by default.

                      All three of these devices are way better for stalking purposes than AirTag ever will be.

                      There's no sea change. Apple are not the first to this market, nor will they be the last. They are however, the highest profile and have the deepest pockets; hence why they attract both opportunist lawsuits and those who would actively try their level best to not 'understand', despite being spoonfed all the information they could want, so they can continue to hate in blissful ignorance.

                      1. flayman Bronze badge

                        Re: re: You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick.

                        Up voted by ME. How do you like that?

                        1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                          Re: re: You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick.

                          Have one back ;)

                  2. quxinot

                    Re: re: You have a choice. You can educate people or you can be a dick.

                    >The tricky bit, mastered by years of reg commenting, is pretending to do the first while doing the second!!

                    There is a third option: Confuse everyone.

                    See AMFM1.

            2. sabroni Silver badge
              Facepalm

              re: No. AirTags were designed from the ground up with privacy as the default.

              Great to know it's incompetence and not ignorance, I guess......

              1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                Re: re: No. AirTags were designed from the ground up with privacy as the default.

                The only way Apple could have done it better is not to create the devices at all. Which would simply mean that a stalker would use any of the tens of thousands of other tracking devices on the market which are far better at it.

            3. ChoHag Silver badge
              FAIL

              > AirTags were designed from the ground up with privacy as the default.

              The devices exist so there's no way that can possibly be true.

              1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                Insofar as it's a tracking device and therefore to a certain degree incompatible by nature with privacy, you're correct.

                However; devices to track objects have existed for decades, and the very concept is open to abuse. In my view Apple have done their best to create a device which can be used for it's primary purpose (tracking 'stuff') whilst making it as difficult as possible to use it for secondary purposes such as tracking people.

                The alternative would be to not enter this market at all, and leave it open to the tens of thousands of tracker manufacturers out there who couldn't give 2 hoots about privacy in any context, whose mission is simply to sell as many trackers as possible regardless of the use cases, and who offer not even a pretence of caring. These manufacturers still exist, and are hopefully feeling a little threatened by the success of AirTags.

                Apple are getting a kicking for going 2000x further than ANY other 'stuff tracker' manufacturer to safeguard privacy; they would probably have received less abuse if they just made the damn thing and didn't bother putting any safeguards in at all. But then; people do love to hate on Apple.

                1. ChoHag Silver badge
                  FAIL

                  > Insofar as it's a tracking device and therefore to a certain degree incompatible by nature with privacy, you're correct.

                  Well done. That was the point.

                  1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                    You saw ‘tracking’, thought ‘stalking’, and figured you had a valid point. You don’t. Well done.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple Documentation Is Helpful In Understanding These Law Suits...

    Quote from Apple's web page:

    "How does it work?

    Your AirTag sends out a secure Bluetooth signal that can be detected by nearby devices in the Find My network. These devices send the location of your AirTag to iCloud — then you can go to the Find My app and see it on a map. The whole process is anonymous and encrypted to protect your privacy. And itʼs efficient, so thereʼs no need to worry about battery life or data usage.

    Lost Mode makes finding things even easier.

    Just like your other Apple devices, AirTag can be put into Lost Mode. Then when it’s detected by a device in the network, you’ll automatically get a notification. You can also set it so someone can get your contact info by tapping your AirTag with an NFC-capable smartphone — that’s the same technology that lets people pay for things with their phone."

    End quote.

    (1) Note that your smartphone can be switched off, and the tag is still "detected by a device in the network" (using Bluetooth).

    (2) Note that "AirTag can be put into Lost Mode" and then "someone can get your contact info by tapping your AirTag with an NFC-capable smartphone".

    (3) It's absolutely not clear to me that this scheme will "protect your privacy"......if you are being stalked.......

    .....particularly if the stalker is using a burner! The stalker can find out where the tag is located (even if the burner is switched off most of the time). And the stalkee ca't find out anything about the stalker's burner. No doubt there are fanbois out there who can elaborate on the "privacy" arrangements.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Apple Documentation Is Helpful In Understanding These Law Suits...

      If you are being stalked then the AirTag isn't your AirTag, it's the stalker's AirTag. So being able to find the owner violates the privacy of the stalker - which is a good thing, right? Victim finds the AirTag, and finds out who is stalking them.

      The other use is a genuinely lost item belonging to you with an AirTag attached. Just like my wallet where you find a bank card and can easily return it to me, you can find my lost suitcase and return it to me.

  8. Potemkine! Silver badge

    What is the goal of printing the names of the plaintiffs? It brings nothing to the article, and could generate harassment towards them.

    An information being public doesn't mean it has to be trumpeted

    == Bring us Dabbsy back! ==

  9. Joe Gurman

    Just curious

    Why no one has lobbed a sueball at Tile or other purveyors of Internet-trackable beacons, starting years before Apple came on the scene with AirTags. In Tile's case, about seven years. Are we to believe no low-life used a Tile tracker for stalking in the seven years they were available before Air Tags appeared?

    Oh, right, Apple's pockets are much deeper than LIfe360 &c. Just like bank robbers rob banks because that's where the money is, lawyers will sue whoever is perceived as having the most cash.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Just curious

      It's (also) the size of the tracking network.

      All the other ones require a specific app to be installed on other people's phones. If you're the only one using (eg) Tile, it's only trackable when it's near your phone - not when out and about.

      The Apple Find My tracking is part of iOS, and strongly encouraged to be enabled.

      So there are far more Apple tracking nodes out there than any other system. Which also make the Apple one work better for the intended benign use, of course.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: Just curious

        ” All the other ones require a specific app to be installed on other people's phones.“

        Galaxy Tags don’t.

    2. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: Just curious

      Possibly because Tile are smaller. Its only with these comments that I've heard of Tile. Never heard of them before.

      Not a Apple fan but even I know what an AirTag is and what it looks like.

  10. steviebuk Silver badge

    Found

    Found one in the local Sainsbury's carpark. Android struggled to read it but rhen so did my partners iPhone.

    Eventually it read and only showed the last digits of owners number. Waited over a week, still not reported as missing. Now been a month and the same message. Its clear it wws stuck on a car to track

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    THIS is why we need diversity

    A woman being present at the development stage would have pointed out the stalking risk and she could have then reported it to another woman on the board of directors. No amount of sensitivity training will ever let men fully understand the lived experiences of women.

    1. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: THIS is why we need diversity

      Do you have any evidence there were no women at the development stage? Apple is only concerned about the share holder nothing more. This has been clear for years with their continued use of China despite the CCPs human rights issues. They are only now beginning to slowly move some manufacturering outside of China but only because they had suppy issues with China's stupid zero COVID and the riot at the foxconn factory.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: THIS is why we need diversity

        Then she was either ignored or conditioned to not speak up.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: THIS is why we need diversity

      And they added a feature so that a stalking victim will be informed that they are stalked by an AirTag. So: Stalked with an AirTag -> woman finds out -> woman sues Apple and calls the press, and is safe. Stalked in other ways -> woman is not safe.

    3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: THIS is why we need diversity

      ” THIS is why we need diversity

      A woman being present at the development stage would have pointed out the stalking risk and she could have then reported it to another woman on the board of directors. No amount of sensitivity training will ever let men fully understand the lived experiences of women.“

      What a monumentally braindead comment. For the good of humanity, go back and rethink your life choices.

  12. Spamolot

    'Mericans are so sue happy.

    So if a 'merican woman is hit and injured by a car or a round from a gun - she'd sue the car manufacturer or gun maker? She can't sue the gun makers as Congress has made them a protected class. Most car makers including Tesla are still grappling with the liability angle of self-driving cars, let along the current meatbag-driven (non-AI) ones. Currently they're only on the hook if their cars are inherently and provably defective.

    I can understand going after the deepest pockets: Apple and the stalker's insurance provider, but that's civil rather than criminal law. The stalker is the one at fault.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like