These connected items, which allow you to never lose sight of your keys or your wallet, are teased by people with malicious intent.
Convenient to never lose your keys, the connected beacon is an increasingly popular gadget. Two brands dominate the market: Apple, with its AirTags on the market from 2021, and Tile, whose products have been available for nine years.
But for a few months now, these items have also been diverted. These little “chips”, which are just bigger than a coin and have the look of a keychain, can be placed on a keychain, in a wallet, in a car or even on the collar of an animal.
Thanks to the Bluetooth connection, they make it possible to locate the objects on which they are hung, through a signal that is sent on a map.
But this device quickly found another use: tracking people. By discreetly placing this beacon on someone’s belongings, it is possible to monitor their movements without their knowledge. A practice that has spread and the majority of victims are women.
In the United States, where the phenomenon appears to be on the rise, police have documented several cases of women complaining of harassment related to the use of these devices.
he was chasing women
In an article from April 8, 2022, Vice recounted testimonies to this effect from eight police stations in major US cities, collected over the past eight months. Many of them report the use of AirTag in cases of harassment.
Of the 150 police reports that mention the item, Vice says 50 come from women who called police because they received a notification notifying them that they were being monitored by a device.
Only half of them identified the person behind the espionage. Other reports include cases of theft of vehicles or personal belongings in which an AirTag was placed.
Most of the victims report that the AirTags were placed in their car, mostly by ex-spouses.
A similar case in Amiens
In France, in early 2022, several young women warned about this phenomenon on social networks, especially on Twitter. Without mentioning any specific brand, a young woman referred to this practice in the city of Amiens in a tweet that quickly spread widely.
Amiens police recorded a report in early April. Another woman claimed on Twitter that she was a victim of this device in early March.
According to the testimony shared on Twitter, the “tracker” used, however, could not be an AirTag, whose brand name is specified in the notification if an unknown device is detected by an iPhone. On online sales platforms like Amazon, there are indeed many references to competing and much cheaper accessories.
According to Article 226-1 of the Penal Code, the fact of undermining the privacy of others “by any means” is punishable by one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. Reminder shared by the Ministry of Interior in early March.
Tiles like the AirTag need Bluetooth to work, as they can not rely on a very expensive GPS chip that consumes too much power.
To provide location, systems of this type are based on the user community: they locate the location of the smartphones equipped with the Tile application for the first, or very simply iPhone in the second case, for collecting – anonymizing – their location and then provide that location to the user.
These tools can thus share their location in real time, but also the history of their movements. Apple’s huge fleet of devices, which largely dominates the smartphone market, makes AirTags particularly expensive.
“Apple’s vast network of devices gives AirTags the unique power to track the globe. And the company’s extensive communication campaign has brought technology to the attention of pursuers who would not have known it. complains to Vice President Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technologies Oversight Project, who observes the oversupply of surveillance technologies.
Aware of these potential difficulties, Apple quickly developed security measures to prevent an AirTag spy. As mentioned above, an iPhone that repeatedly detects the same Bluetooth accessory nearby sends an alert to alert the user.
“The AirTags were not found by chance. It’s also Apple Spy Prevention measures that work and lead some of those affected to report to the police,” said Eva Galperin, cyber security officer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Vice.
Following the criticism of the lack of support for Android devices, the company also released an unknown Bluetooth device tracking application on Android.
The company has also published some instructions that you should follow when you receive this notification, such as the ability to turn on an audible signal – which increased in early May – to find the device.
Last February, the company announced that it wanted to improve its device by allowing, for example, to locate a “suspicious” AirTag nearby with greater accuracy.
For its part, Tile also took action in late March to combat harassment. According to Apple, the company has released “Scan and Secure”, an application for detecting the presence of nearby devices.
However, unlike the Apple device, the tiles do not have an alarm to detect them more easily.