AirTags: Hidden Stalking Menace or Latest Overblown Urban Myth?

I have a friend who’s ex a couple of years ago was teasing/harassing her with obvious knowledge of where she had been. The friend had a mechanic check every inch of the car for a gps tracking device. The mechanic didn’t find anything, but she eventually discovered that her car’s app had a “where did you park” function that the ex still had access to on her cell phone. My friend deleted the account and that ended that.

This sort of activity has been happening for longer than AirTag and Tile has been around, and at least with AirTag there is a way to find out that a foreign one is following you around. My friend ultimately wasn’t being tracked by a gps tracker, but if she had been, there would have been nothing to warn her that such a device was following her around.

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I put Tile devices on my luggage during a long trip, which included overseas travel. (This was in the Before Time.) I ended up concluding that they were a waste of money as they were rarely able to be located, and when they were found, the information was sometimes days behind reality. AirTags have a great advantage in this regard, in that they actually work, but they’re not exactly real-time either. (That’s why Apple doesn’t recommend them for putting on your pet’s collar.)

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What happens when someone is using a directional “higher-gain” bluetooth antenna to “track” an Air Tag?

Seems not very useful. The transmission range isn’t very high and it re-generates its encrypted network broadcast ID on a regular basis—several times a day if not more often.

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You can just remove the battery on any unknown AirTag you find. It’s really easy to twist the back off and drop it out.

The privacy issues are real, and Apple obviously thought of them and has made good efforts to mitigate them. It does, of course, make it less useful than it could be as a theft-tracking device that could lead you (or law enforcement) to the thief’s location.

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I had a problem trying to re-pair a Siri Remote 2 from an TV HD to a 4K. Only when I put the HD, and Siri Remote 1 inside a metal tin (it came filled with lebkuchen) was I successful. This with the HD & Siri 1 at the other end of the house from where the 4K & Siri 2 are located. When I go to set up the HD in the bedroom, I’m going to put the 4K & Siri 2 in the tin box first!

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For some reason this security issue confuses me … somethings are more intuitive, to me, than others: Does this imply a bad-actor activated their Apple tag to your phone? (and can reverse “Find” your phone?)

I’m not sure I exactly understand the question. Are you asking how a phone gets notified about a nearby AirTag?

I am basing my question on my recollection of how I set up my air tags, and my understanding on how the interface works: that an air tag is paired to a specific phone. The original post suggests, I think, that any phone will read any air tag in the vicinity

Still not sure what you’re referring to—the first comment in this thread?

AirTags are paired with a single iPhone or iPad. That also engages Pairing Lock, which has to be disabled from the paired device. Without disabling Pairing Lock directly from the paired device, an AirTag cannot be used again, even when it’s physically reset. (Activation Lock can be disabled remotely for an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Watch, making it substantially different.)

The Android app Apple has released can reveal if an AirTag or other Find My item is in the vicinity—that is, within Bluetooth range. As of iOS 15.2/iPadOS 15.2, Find My will only show the whereabouts of Find My items paired with your device, and those aren’t shared with other people in a Family Sharing group.

Apple previewed a Find My featured in the 15.2 beta that didn’t ship that would let you scan for nearby AirTags just like the Android app. I assume that is coming, but it’s not in the iOS 15.3 beta, so perhaps later.

With the Android tracking app or a future iOS/iPadOS Find My feature, you’d be able to determine if an AirTag or other Find My item is nearby and then use whatever method is available with a found item to get its serial number, contact information, or other data. However, you can’t trigger a sound on it, as you can if an AirTag or other item is determined to be moving with you.

(I should note I get into all this in my Take Control of Find My and AirTags book.)

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sorry, 2nd post in this thread indicated
“getting the warnings that an AirTag that doesn’t belong to me is moving with me”

So to clarify my question:
How does, an unfamiliar Air Tag i.e. an unpaired device appear in a users phone … unless, of course, it was surreptitiously paired to the phone.

Like I said, a little non-intuitive to me, sort of like 8-Track recording hardware, but I digress

The tag is paired to your phone in the sense that only your phone can request information about its location.

Any Apple device within range may pick up its signal and relay that signal to an Apple server, but that data will remain on the Apple server until its paired phone requests that data.

If someone else plants an AirTag on your person, it does not appear in your phone. You can’t track it, because it is already paired with someone else’s phone.

But your phone will be periodically reporting its location to Apple. The Apple server will figure out that that tag’s location is moving in sync with your phone and will send you an alert. But (as far as I know), you can’t tell your phone to show you its location. You will need to be alert to listen for its periodic audio alerts (which is generates at random times after it has been separated from its owner for more than 8 hours) in order to find it.

Needless to say, this is far from a perfect solution.

Exactly. Just has to be around you. The iOS/iPadOS system software recognizes that it has been relaying the same Bluetooth ID as you have moved from place to place. Apple particularly notes that you have to arrive at certain location you commonly go to, like your home or work, for the alert to appear on your device.

Because AirTag and all Find My items and Apple devices that use the Find My network change their Bluetooth identifier at intervals, this only works over relatively short periods of time where the same ID is recognized.

So it combines:

  • Proximity: within Bluetooth range
  • Persistence: traveling with you over time
  • Important location: not just traveling on a bus or train or among classes at a school, but at your home (as set in your contacts) or other significant location. You can see which locations your iPhone or iPad thinks are significant at Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Significant Locations. It also gets triggered at the end of the day.

David, that’s correct in part: a Find My network device separated from its owner from between 8 and 24 hours (a randomly period, not just 8 or more hours) will make a sound.

However, if you get a “traveling with you” notice on an iPhone or iPad, you can trigger a sound on the Find My device by tapping a button on your iPhone or iPad. This is sent via Bluetooth. This allows you to pinpoint it aurally. (Though doesn’t help people who have hearing impairment.)

As noted in the article:

  • People with an Android phone can track Find My items near them.
  • People with an iPhone or iPad will receive a notification for items traveling with them (based on the above location or end of day) and can play a sound (or tap to ignore).
  • People without any device can hear a separated Find My item go off between 8 and 24 hours after it is separated from its paired device.
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