Apple AirTags and other devices used to track domestic violence victims – NBC Boston

Apple AirTags are small tracking devices that cost about $30 dollars and can be attached to anything to help you find missing items. They are just over a quarter size and can help you track everything from your lost car keys to your luggage.

Unfortunately, as NBC 10 Boston discovered through a public registry request, these devices have also been used to track people without their knowledge.

“She kept going to the police. And she kept saying, but I’m being followed. This person shows up here and they were like we just don’t know,” said Diana Mancera, director of memberships and programs at Jane Doe Inc, the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

She said a victim of domestic violence came to one of their member programs last year, worried that her abuser would keep showing up wherever she went. Mancera said it took two to three months for them to discover that the victim was being followed by an AirTag.

“During one of the custody meetings they had, the abuser placed an AirTag on the kids’ backpacks,” Mancera said.


NBC10 Boston

An Apple AirTag compared to a quarter.

Part of her role at Jane Doe is to help lead the technical safety initiative. Mancera trains local outreach groups on how to educate victims about different ways they can be tracked through technology.

“So if someone wants to continue to have power and control over someone, they’re going to do everything they can to do that,” she said.

Through public records this year, we found more than 20 police incident reports in the Boston area where phones were warned that they were being tracked by an Apple AirTag. That comes on top of eight cases that were not released because of domestic violence.

On January 14, an East Boston woman was warned that an AirTag was following her from work to her home. When she pressed the button to make the device make a sound, she discovered that the AirTag had been stuck to the underside of an electric scooter with a ‘black adhesive’.

On April 10, a woman from Brockton was warned that she was being tracked by an AirTag and that the owner could see her location. She found the AirTag attached to her vehicle by a magnetic storage box.

On April 19, a woman from Malden was warned that she was being followed from her gym to her home. She told the police officer that her bag had been left unattended in an unlocked locker at the gym. When she activated the AirTag to play a sound, she discovered that a small hole had been cut in the lining of her bag and that the AirTag was on the bottom of the bag between the fabric.

Apple released a statement in February about complaints about unwanted tracking.

“AirTag is designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or other people’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products. Junk tracking has long been a social problem, and we have We addressed this concern seriously in AirTag’s design, which is why the Find My network was built with privacy in mind, uses end-to-end encryption, and why we’ve innovated with the first-ever proactive system to alert you to unwanted tracking. We hope this starts an industry trend for others to provide these kinds of proactive alerts in their products as well.”

The statement announced a series of improvements to the AirTags and the Find My Network that would warn users about unwanted tracking.

An Apple spokesperson wanted to point out features that were introduced in March with the iOS 15.4 update.

  • New privacy warnings while setting up AirTag: In an upcoming software update, any user setting up their AirTag for the first time will see a message clearly stating that AirTag is for tracking their own assets, that using AirTag to track people without permission is a crime in many regions around the world, that AirTag is designed to be detected by victims, and that law enforcement officers can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag.
  • To fix AirPods alert issues: We’ve heard from users who reported receiving an “Unknown accessory detected” notification. We’ve confirmed that this warning will not appear if an AirTag is detected near you — only AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or a third-party Find My network accessory. In the same software update, we’ll update the warning users receive to indicate that AirPods have traveled with them rather than an “unknown accessory.”

Apple wasn’t the first company to make this type of affordable tracking device, but AirTags was the first device to alert people to being tracked.

Tile, another tracking device that predates the AirTag, released its own anti-stalking update to its mobile app in March.

How to set your phone to receive notifications if you are followed

Apple has created a webpage with tips on what to do if your phone is alerted that it is being tracked by an AirTag or similar device. They also have tips on which settings on your iPhone should be turned on to make sure you get notified.

We decided to try the alert system by buying some AirTags and having them track NBC 10 Boston producers.

It was 50 minutes after a producer left work and returned home that her iPhone warned that she was being followed by an AirTag. There was a map with the route she traveled.

For another producer, his AirTag played a noise in the door of his vehicle the day after being placed there. It took two days for his iPhone to finally be alerted.

“I think what worries me the most is that we know about this because Apple is the one that actually developed ways to detect if they were being used to stalk someone. But there are a lot of other devices that don’t. do,” said Andres Arrietta of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Arrietta said Bluetooth tracking devices are part of a bigger problem. If you are one of the millions of Android smartphone users, you need to download an app to detect AirTags or similar tracking devices.

“What we need is a standard that should be part of both Android and iOS so that they can offer all these devices so that the users don’t have to worry and take all these steps to protect their security,” he says. Arrietta.

Mancera said if you’re being warned that you’re being tracked by the AirTag or other tracking device, it’s important to actually find the AirTag. Most incident reports we found did not find an AirTag or device.

“And most of the time I say to victims and lawyers alike, the work with the survivors is, ‘trust your gut,'” Mancera said. “If your gut tells you that someone is following you and then knows where you are, something happens.”

She said it’s often not necessarily tracking devices used to track people. She mentions other things like social media or checking location settings when you take a photo.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that there have been a number of false alarms when it comes to AirTag warnings lately.

In order for your iPhone to warn you that you are being tracked, make sure that the location settings are turned on and the Find My app is turned on. You also need to make sure that Bluetooth is turned on.

You can make sure your tracking alerts are enabled by going to the Find My app, clicking “Me” and turning on “Tracking Notifications”.

If you don’t have an iPhone, you can download the “Tracking Detect” app from the Google Play Store. With that app, you can scan for AirTags and similar devices that work with the Find My app.

If you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, you can call Safelink’s nationwide hotline at: 1-877-785-2020or you can visit the Jane Doe Inc member page to find an outreach group near you.

You may also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or by visiting www.thehotline.org or text LOVEIS at 22522.

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