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Tracking App Dangers: Authorities in Milwaukee on the lookout for illegal cyberstalking with Apple AirTags

Posted at 5:18 AM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 17:56:58-05

MILWAUKEE — Local authorities are on the lookout for potential cases involving digital tracking devices being used to stalk a person or vehicle. Around the country there have been several cases of Apple’s new AirTag devices being used in crimes. In some cases the digital tracking device has been used to cyberstalk a person, and in others to track a luxury vehicle to steal.

AirTags work by talking to internet connected i-devices and using them to send its location to its owner. The are 100s of millions of iPhones and iPads in the country and that means the small device will likely be able to transmit its location frequently. All of this usually happens in the background without the device user knowing the AirTag is using its location.

Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas says his department has been made aware of the potential for AirTags to become an issue. “Something that is intended for good can be used for bad as well,” Lucas said. The sheriff’s department employs special digital investigators who look into these types of crimes. Lucas says, “we’ve heard from some of our partner agencies around the country of this phenomena of these AirTags being used as tracking devices. It drew awareness to us to start paying attention to any trends here in the Milwaukee area.” So far there have been no cases prosecuted in the county.

Apple has built security into the software for AirTags to prevent unwanted tracking. Apple iPhone users will get a notification on their phone if an AirTag continues to use its location for tracking. Apple says software can recognize if an AirTag not registered to your own phone travels with you to your significant locations like your home or office. That is when it will trigger the notification you are being tracked. The device also makes a beeping sound if it is away from its owner device anywhere from 8 to 24 hours after separation.

If you have an iPhone, the above security measures should work automatically, but there are safety systems in effect for Android users as well. Apple recently launched “Tracker Detect” in the Google Play Store. This will allow users of Android phones to scan for AirTags in their vicinity. An iPhone or NFC capable device can also hover over the AirTag and be directed to instructions on how to disable it.

TMJ4 News purchased an AirTag for $29 to test out the features. We found that it worked as designed. Tracking our subject and reporting back to the iPhone it had been paired with. Our subject also received a notice on their iPhone the they were being tracked. It took 7 hours for that to happen, and that’s where issues can arise, says Michael Vieau, a cybersecurity expert with Brookfield based Sikich Inc. “That’s part of the conversation and the controversy. After 72 hours obviously you’ve gone home, you’ve gone to work, you’ve gone wherever you normally go and as a stalker I am going to know everything about you,” says Vieau.

In a statement Apple reiterated their commitment to security and privacy:

"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.”

Sheriff Lucas encouraged anyone who believes they are being unlawfully tracked to do the same. Contact a local law enforcement agency and let them know what is happening. Apple says they will work together to find the owner of the AirTag.

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