Last year, Apple introduced the AirTag, a 1.26-inch disc that doubles as a tracking device.
Along with Apple’s new “Find My” network, the discs are meant to help users find their lost items, such as wallets and keys.
The tech giant was initially slammed for taking the idea from Tile, which created a technology based on a similar idea. But now, critics have raised a far more serious concern, which could affect people in the jewelry industry.
While Apple has introduced security measures, including a new app—and there have been no reported incidents of these items being used to follow jewelers—some worry about the potential for misuse.
The BBC called the AirTags a “perfect tool for stalking.” Canada’s National Post reported that thieves had begun to place them on cars in parking lots without the drivers’ knowledge, so they can steal them later.
Law enforcement agencies have taken the issue seriously. New Jersey officials recently warned that AirTags and similar trackers pose an “inherent threat to law enforcement, as criminals could use them to identify officers’ sensitive locations [and] patterns of life.”
Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The New York Times that the tags may be “uniquely harmful,” simply because so many people use Apple products.
“Apple automatically turned every iOS device into part of the network that AirTags use to report the location of an AirTag,” she said. “The network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”
This is especially worrisome to salespeople who sell jewelry on the road, who have long worried about being followed by criminal gangs. Some jewelers have brought up the issue on industry forums.
In response, Apple has released a Tracker Detect app for Android that lets users discover if they are being tracked. The technology is already built into the latest Apple iOS.
If an unwanted AirTag is being used, users will get a message, “AirTag Found Moving With You” or “AirTag Detected.” The user can then choose to disable the tracker. If the Apple AirTag isn’t found post-alert, the device will start making a noise to help it be found. Apple recommends that anyone who has security concerns immediately call 911. Further advice from Apple can be seen here.
John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, says that while he has fielded inquiries about the technology, he notes that similar devices have already been on the market—including GPS trackers—for decades. In some cases, they have been used to follow jewelers.
So far, though, he says, “We have no crime reports with regards to that technology.”
But he acknowledges “it’s a risk. People have to be careful. Conceivably, it can be put on your car. I’m sure that someone will use it. It might take a while, but we’ll see it.”
He says that salespeople and jewelers should take standard precautions to avoid being followed—including varying their routes, driving slowly, making U-turns, and pulling into bank or fast-food parking lots. They should also avoid taking valuable items home and have a phone on them at all times in case they are being followed. More tips can be seen here.
At the moment, though, the tags haven’t posed a problem, Kennedy says. “It’s not crime problem number one.”
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