Stalkers have found a new tool to track women — the Apple AirTag.
The AirTag was designed to track things. Put one in your purse or backpack, and if it goes missing you can use the gizmo and an iPhone to find it.
But Vice reported that AirTags are being used for darker purposes.
In a sampling of reports from eight police departments that Vice did not name, 150 complaints mentioned AirTags.
About 50 of those were from women who were notified that they were being tracked by an AirTag they did not own. (If an AirTag that is not yours is near you and you have an iPhone or other Apple device, you get an alert. No alert goes out to people with non-Apple devices.)
Half of those women believed a man was keeping track of their movements as a step toward potential harassment. Some reports involved incidents of slashed tires or threats.
“Stalking and stalkerware existed before AirTags, but Apple made it cheaper and easier than ever for abusers and attackers to track their targets,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.
“Apple’s global device network gives AirTags unique power to stalk around the world. And Apple’s massive marketing campaign has helped highlight this type of technology to stalkers and abusers who’d never otherwise know about it.”
Some say Apple should have done its homework better.
“That was a completely ridiculous way to launch a new device, without having taken into account its use in a domestic violence situation,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But specifically, the blind spot that Apple had was people who live outside of the Apple ecosystem.”
Location stalking is “as old as GPS technology itself,” said Mary Beth Becker-Lauth, domestic violence community educator at Women’s Advocates.
“Until fairly recently, the women (and they were always women) who’d come to our program for support while being stalked/tracked had an abuser/stalker who worked in IT or who was highly tech-savvy.”
“The fact that most women who are finding AirTags on their person know who might have put them there is right in line with demographic research on stalking,” Becker-Lauth said.
“Nearly three out of every four stalking victims know their stalker, and the most common relationship between a stalking victim and their stalker is a current or former intimate partner. So it makes sense that these women have someone they can point to immediately and say, ‘This sounds like something he would do.’”
Commentators said law enforcement is behind the curve on addressing the issue.
“Police often have no idea how to respond to AirTags, but even if they did, that wouldn’t be a solution,” Cahn said. “We can’t arrest our way out of Apple’s mess.”
“We should be taking these women’s experiences so, so seriously, because when they tell a police officer or domestic violence advocate that they are being stalked, what they’re really saying is that their life is in danger, usually because of the person doing the stalking,” Becker-Lauth said.
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