(NewsNation) — There’s a little device appearing to cause big problems for some people. Apple AirTags are coin-sized gadgets that allow owners to track misplaced items. But as NewsNation has learned, some people are also using them to track other people.
An AirTag can be attached to most items. The small button-shaped device is simply placed on an item, then tracked through an app. The AirTag speaker and Bluetooth antenna will then ping the location of the missing item.
But hundreds of people have reported being unknowingly tracked by the tiny devices and there are fears the number could grow. Authorities say there are unsettling cases of stalkers and thieves planting AirTags and then following people’s movements.
A new report from VICE Media’s Motherboard by reporter Samantha Cole shared the results of 150 police reports involving AirTags. The report states that 50 cases were from women who called police when they received notifications their whereabouts were being tracked. Of those, half of the women reported knowing the person tracking them.
Cole combed through the police reports to document crimes associated with AirTags. She says many of the reports followed a similar pattern.
“What stood out to me was probably the consistency throughout the stories that did talk about someone who was stalking them. A lot of them followed a really similar pattern where someone had an abusive partner or an ex-partner or a man had become violent after they had broken up and then they’d taken out an Order of Protection against them or gone to the police once and then from there, they started seeing this man around town and wondering how he knew where she was at all times.
“And, you know, he would show up at work, he would show up at her house and kind of be watching her even though she had already taken the measures to kind of protect yourself against him. So yeah, that was the most kind of striking thing to me … the reports really followed this very specific pattern of a man escalating his stalking and harassment after she tried to cut ties with him,” Cole said Monday on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.”
So, how are police suggesting that people protect themselves in similar situations?
“A lot of reports that I read, and I can just kind of speak to what was in the reports that we read, the police responded, saying, you know, you can take out another Order of Protection, you can call a domestic violence hotline, you can obviously take the AirTag off of your vehicle, or you know, turn it in for evidence and you kind of keep a paper trail that way,” Cole said.
“They’re all doing the right thing and kind of, you know, starting this reporting process and saying the behaviors escalated, I need someone to know about this. But beyond that, there was not a lot that police were going to say to these women to protect themselves because there’s not a ton to be done … when you don’t you’re being tracked.”
While other tracking devices are out on the market, officials don’t yet know the scale of if products other than AirTags are reportedly being used by stalkers and thieves.
“This is the first time we’ve really seen the scale of the AirTags being abused in a way that we’ve … had this theoretical, or like you said, there have been … here and there cases where people have reported being stalked with them,” Cole said. “But you know, this is the first time we’ve seen where it’s actually happening in a really large scale.
“As far as other devices, we’re not totally sure yet. … They’re even harder to detect. Some of the experts that I talked to before this recording said the fact that people are going to the police are reporting that they found AirTags as evidence that they’re working that the notifications and the safety systems that Apple is putting in place that are actually, finally checking in and people are able to find their tags in the first place. And with these other devices … like Tile and others, there’s no such notification coming to your phone where you’re being followed by them. So there’s a lot to be done in this industry to protect people.”
Apple is aware its product is being used for stalking. The tech giant released a new personal safety user guide and issued the following statement: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products. Apple has been working closely with various safety groups and law enforcement agencies. Through our own evaluations and these discussions, we have identified even more ways we can update AirTag safety warnings and help guard against further unwanted tracking.”