Modified AirTags pose major privacy concerns, especially for Android users

Any button-sized tracker is bound to be abused.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Apple AirTags are great. Attach one to an item you want to keep track of, and that's then one less thing to worry about.

I love AirTags.

But they can be abused. Or, more specifically, they can be used to abuse people

AirTags are small and can easily be tucked into a bag, coat pocket, or car by people with bad intentions. And Apple knows this.

Apple has taken a few steps to keep users safe. iPhones running the latest iOS software will warn users if a tag that's not registered to them is traveling with them. Tags will occasionally emit a weak beep. There's an app that Android users can download to scan for errant tags that they might have "acquired" from others (this app is far from being great, however, in my experience).

But now there's another threat facing people: third-party modified AirTags. 

And no, I won't be providing links.

I've come across a range of ways AirTags have been modified, from the speaker being disabled to AirTags being dismantled and put into different cases. Some of the modified AirTags look deceptively like regular AirTags, while others look nothing like them.

Also: How tech is a weapon in modern domestic abuse -- and how to protect yourself

First off, let me say that I don't believe that modifying an AirTag is wrong, and I can see reasons why people might want an AirTag in a different shape or with the speaker disabled.

But these create an increased risk of surreptitious tracking for people.

AirTags that don't beep -- and let's be honest that the beep from an AirTag is pretty weak at best -- will go unnoticed by Android users not actively scanning for them. Without the beep, it might be challenging for even iPhone users to find.

I believe that Apple needs to do more to protect users. Here are some steps the company could take:

  • Make AirTags harder to modify, perhaps by filling them with epoxy or building them with tamper-proofing in mind.
  • Work with Google to bring comprehensive tag tracking to both iOS and Android (much like both companies worked together to build a COVID framework for contact tracing).
  • Introduce a way for users to report tags that might be being misused. How do you prevent this feature from being misused? That will require some thought.

Bottom line, Apple and the rest of Big Tech need to do better. How simple it is to plant an AirTag on someone, how difficult they can be to find, how poor the Android app is, and how easy they are to modify are just the beginning of things that need to be addressed.

Also: I just found my lost AirTag. You'll never guess where it went

What should you do if you find a tag tracking you? My advice would be to remove the battery and decide whether you're going to go to the police or not. With the battery out, the tag is harmless; it gives you some time to think about what you want to do next.

And if you're someone planning to use an AirTag or similar device to track someone, be aware that you could be breaking any number of laws. 

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