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TV6 Investigates: New Apple AirTag is being used to track people

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 10:00 AM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - A topic of controversy is being discussed around the newly released Apple AirTag and how its being used to allegedly stalk people.

Police say they have seen it locally.

“You could be being tracked and you wouldn’t even know,” said Carlee Kibler, a victim in Clinton of AirTag stalking, “it’s scary.”

Technology is supposed to make life more convenient, not more difficult.

Released in April of 2021, the Apple AirTag is a tiny little tracking device costing $29.99 that is meant to solve a problem we all deal with, losing things. It solves it by being able to attach to items that we lose the most, such as purses or car keys.

It’s also being used to track people, and viewers say that it’s happening right in the Quad Cities and surrounding areas.

Kibler says she got a scary notification on her iPhone after a night out at the bar with her fiancée.

“Ten minutes after I went home, I got an alert from my phone that said there was an unknown device that had been traveling with me for a while and the user could see my location,” said Kibler.

Apple claims to have made the AirTag “stalker proof.” Once it has been assigned to the owner’s iPhone it can’t be shared or connected to another phone.

If an AirTag is in close proximity to another iPhone that is not the owner’s, that phone will be notified that it is being tracked. Of course, only if it is an iPhone.

Released in mid-December, Samsung users can now get an App called “Tracker Detect” that will allow the person to be notified if an AirTag is nearby. Without the App, the user will not get a notification it is being tracked.

After three days, however, the AirTag will make a beeping noise if it has not been in proximity to its owners iPhone.

Those built-in precautions seem to not be enough to prevent users from tracking other people, however.

The size of an AirTag device is about the size of a quarter. If hidden, it is hard to see. Some AirTag owners have been hiding the device inside or on the outside of people’s cars in order to track their location.

Police in Burlington have seen this happen several times in the past few weeks. “They’re kind of sporadic,” said Officer Jacob Jenkins, “we’ve had two happen at [the gym] Sports Works...one happen at mall in West Burlington, one happen at Walmart, [and] then there was another one somewhere.”

The quarter size device has caused a tricky situation for police due to its size, causing them to be unable to find it in the cars of people who claim they have been tagged.

“We’ve been unable to find one because they’re so small,” said Jenkins, “at this point, we don’t know how to move forward with the investigation until we find the AirTags.”

Police say that because it is such a new phenomenon, they are unsure how to even handle it. Officer Jenkins says that because nothing has happened to the victims yet, he and his partner are trying to figure out the reason why the cars and individuals who own them are being tagged.

“You look at harassment, maybe stalking, or if they’re just tagging them to steal them then you look into the theft,” said Jenkins.

One common denominator is that people seem to get the notifications after traveling in their cars.

“It showed a map on my phone of everywhere I’d been since 7:25 that evening,” said Kibler, “then it showed me go to the babysitter to pick my kid up, [then] going to the gas station, then it showed me get home. So the person already had my address.”

Kibler says her fiancée tried calling Apple about the problem but they told him to call the police.

Police in Burlington, however, say they have been unable to reach Apple. “I tried contacting apple, the law enforcement number twice, both of which I was unable to reach anybody,” said Jenkins.

A device not easily found, barely larger than the size of a quarter, can track every location it has been with exact measurement. Unless found and analyzed by police, it’s anonymous.

“It’s scary because now they have my address and everything,” said Kibler, “and they are like watching where I’m going. That’s very scary.”

It’s the ultimate privacy violation.

TV6 Investigates reached out to Apple for comment. A spokesperson quickly responded with the statement:

“We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTag’s privacy and security. AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking — a first in the industry — that both inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them, and deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes. If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag.”

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