Some of the largest Bluetooth tagging devices on the market are Apple’s AirTag, Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag, and Life360’s Tile.
Despite the fact that manufacturers of Bluetooth tags have made it abundantly clear that they were never intended to track individuals, there has been an increase in the number of cases of stalking involving these devices.
Despite this, the cases have resulted in product liability cases, lawsuits, and moves by Apple, Samsung, and Life360 to include significant new security and detection features for Bluetooth tagging that is not intended.
Cybersecurity experts say that the fact that companies like Apple are focusing on security flaws is a promising sign, despite the fact that more can be done, and that tags are expected to see increased sales.
Bluetooth tagging devices are gaining popularity and providing unprecedented global surveillance.
These GPS devices can be used as a less expensive alternative to microchipping your dog for pet owners.
For instance, if you want to keep track of your keys, purse, or child and forget them, these are not bad options. However, the particular concept of using tags to track people is the source of the controversy as a result of the adoption of this technology.
There are numerous Bluetooth tagging devices on the market that provide security and peace of mind, including Life360’s Tile, Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag, and Apple’s AirTag. However, each of these companies has made it clear that these devices were never intended to track people; Apple’s product messaging focuses only on personal items.
That doesn’t change the fact that, like the majority of technological advancements that have occurred at an accelerated rate over the past few decades, from smartphones to AI and social media, there is never a breakthrough without potential drawbacks. Tags are being used for bad things, like stalking people.
If you already use a Bluetooth tag or are considering adding one to your tech-enabled life, the following information will help you get started.
Several crimes involving the use of Bluetooth tagging devices to stalk victims, particularly younger women and women who are being stalked by former partners or spouses, have been reported.
It has been common practice to attach these devices to automobiles; however, there have been instances in which victims have discovered these trackers on themselves. One victim reported discovering a Bluetooth tagging device taped inside her duffel bag, while another discovered one concealed in her coat after a night out.
The issue with Bluetooth trackers is that victims have no control over them, so there is no way to stop them from being stalked by one of these devices. They are unable to access it.
“The problem with Bluetooth trackers … is there’s no way to prevent a victim from being stalked by one of these devices because they don’t control it. They don’t have any access to it. …
Whether it’s a creep at the bar or an angry ex-partner, this is a new avenue that they can use to non-consensually track somebody without their knowledge,” said Adam Dodge, CEO of digital safety education company EndTAB and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Justice Advisory Committee.
According to Dodge, the lawsuit is a step in the right direction because tech companies have historically been protected by Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act. However, in this instance, it is a product liability issue that alleges inadequate safeguards for inherently dangerous products.
He acknowledges Apple’s efforts to address these issues. Apple has already taken numerous measures to reduce their effectiveness as stalking tools. The issue is that they are extremely skilled at stalking individuals, Dodge stated.
Consequently, the litigation may ultimately result in positive outcomes, despite the difficulty of defeating big tech in court. In cases like these, big tech has had a poor track record of litigation.
“The history of litigation against big tech for these types of circumstances is not great. But I’m hopeful that they will have success from a product liability standpoint and as a result make these devices much safer to use,” he said.
Whether successful or not, Dodge says it “sends a message to anyone developing hardware like this to prioritize user safety at the same level as they prioritize user growth and revenue.”
When they heard on their iPhone that an AirTag was found moving with them, many stalking victims were able to tell that they were being followed.
However, there have been complaints about the sound’s low volume.
According to Kathleen Moriarty, chief technology officer at the Center for Internet Security, “It’s not a noise that you may not even take notice of it, so you have to be very cognizant that this is happening.”
In its major announcement in February 2022 regarding several enhancements to combat stalking, Apple detailed measures taken to increase the AirTag’s sound volume. In that update from February, Apple said that it had been changing the tone sequence to use more of the loudest tones to make it easier to find an unidentified AirTag.
During AirTag setup, Apple also added a new privacy warning that makes it clear that using AirTags to track people without their consent is illegal in many countries.
However, the utility of this warning function might be limited. According to Dodge, even though it causes “friction” for any user who intends to use the AirTag for criminal purposes, it is unlikely to deter those who intend to commit a crime.
According to Dodge, It can’t hurt to say that, for Apple to put the warning out there, and perhaps for someone or a small group that would prevent them from misusing AirTags. He compared the concept to the way that some algorithms that are currently integrated into social media platforms warn users when a post they are about to publish is harassment or offensive.
He stated that the announcement that Apple is collaborating with law enforcement to track AirTags back to the perpetrators is more significant.
“They have put out a very clear statement they will cooperate,” he said, and from what he has heard, Apple has backed that up. The challenge, according to Dodge, is that many people still don’t know that Apple will cooperate, including local law enforcement agencies, especially since historically, cooperation between law enforcement and big tech has not always been smooth.
All inquiries regarding AirTag were directed to Apple’s policies and updates, specifically the statement that the company is “committed to listening to feedback and innovating to make improvements that continue to guard against unwanted tracking,” which was included in its February update.
Apps devoted to improved detection are among the most significant updates released by Apple and other manufacturers.
As per Dodge, they really need early warning detection, and need to raise awareness in their community that this is a real risk.
Apple’s Precision Finding app, available for iPhone 11 and later models, has surpassed the AirTag sound alert in that it physically directs users to an unknown AirTag, including displaying the tag’s precise location and playing a sound to draw attention to an AirTag that has been separated from its original owner.
If location services are turned on, which is the default setting, and an AirTag is filled out in an Apple My Card contact section, an AirTag can also be recognized when an iOS 14.5 or later user arrives home. An unwanted AirTag, also known as a tag that was taken by mistake, can also be found in other places that a phone user frequently goes, like a gym.
For security reasons, Apple does not disclose a standard time frame for when alerts begin; this randomized window of time ranges from 8 hours to 24 hours.
“Precision Finding is great but what we also want is an earlier warning to victims,” Dodge said. “They’ve added Precision Finding, they’ve increased volume, they’ve lowered the time window to alert somebody if they’re being tracked, but we’d like to see them go further”.
With its Tracker Detect app in the Google Play store, Apple has tried to offer Android phone users similar detection technology. It allows Android users to search for items that no longer have the original owner, but it does not automatically detect like the iPhone does.
“More safety measures are needed, even for Apple, they need to find a better way to alert Android users if they are being tracked with an AirTag, because unlike the iPhone, they do not get the continual scanning”.
He added this is particularly important because Android phones are more popular with underserved communities and people of lower-income, who should not be more at risk of stalking as a result of socioeconomics.
Samsung introduced the SmartThings Find feature in the SmartThings app at the end of 2020. This feature enables Galaxy users to locate their lost phone. Samsung later released an update with the Unknown Tag Search that lets users search for any unknown SmartTags in their immediate area.
Scan and Secure, a similar update that Life360’s Tile released in March, enables iOS and Android users to locate any Tiles or devices in their vicinity.
The company claims that the design was inspired by concern for potential victims of unwanted tracking and requires users to walk, move, or drive a certain distance away from their original location for a maximum of 10 minutes before the scan is finished.
According to the company, 70 percent of stalking victims who are familiar with their abuser are the most common use case for domestic violence.
Life360 says it is a manual Bluetooth scanner because proactive alerts that are set to appear after a predetermined amount of time can put victims of domestic abuse in greater danger depending on the circumstances, despite Dodge’s emphasis on the significance of earlier detection.
Someone who lives with their abuser and is trying to leave a dangerous situation can’t wait for an alert to tell them hours later that they are being tracked, so automatic alerts may not be in their best interest.
How To Respond To Being Stalked:
There are ways to disable a Bluetooth tagging device so it can no longer track your location if you find one with you.
By holding the top of their smartphone next to the white side of the AirTag, iPhone and NFC-capable smartphone users can disable the device. Users will receive a notification as a result, which will direct them to the AirTag’s serial number, where they will be able to access instructions for disabling the device.
If the device has been set to Lost Mode, this function can be used to locate an innocently lost AirTag and return it to its owner, or it can be used to disable an unwanted AirTag.
All AirTags can have their batteries removed, but not all Tile and Tile-enabled devices can do so. Disabling the device is simple if the battery can be removed. The company suggests either wrapping the device in several layers of foil or placing it in an electronic signal-blocking bag for Tile devices with batteries that cannot be replaced.
It is not a good idea for a user to destroy an unwanted tag, especially if the battery cannot be removed.
“You could always take a hammer and destroy the thing, or put it in the garbage and send it to the dump, but from an evidentiary standpoint, if you’re going to law enforcement, obliterating the device means you might not have the serial number, and they’d want that,”
The increasing number of cases of stalking involving Bluetooth tagging devices highlights the importance of protecting one’s privacy when using these devices, but these issues probably won’t deter potential customers.
You could take a very firm stance and say that technology is bad because it can be used for this kind of tracking, but you wouldn’t be interested in the technology. However, because the use of it has already begun, it is difficult to pull back, Moriarty stated.
Companies must also strike a balance between security and usability as these devices get more safety features.
“I think that it will deter people from using it if it becomes less useful to consumers as a result of restrictions they imposed to stop attacks of this kind. However, Cappos stated, “I think the much more likely outcome will be that they will continue to be used more and more.” I don’t think that is very likely.
The safety features that Apple, Samsung, and Life360 are including in their Bluetooth tagging devices could result in criminals becoming more interested in secondary market players.
According to Cappos, “one thing you don’t want to have occur is for Apple to add a bunch of good security features, so all the attackers go and buy it from a vendor who didn’t add those security features and use it for stalking.”
However, Dodge stated that device manufacturers responding to safety concerns and developing safety features is a rare occurrence in technology, which is a positive development. He claims that the tech industry has not been good at responding forcefully to user safety concerns in the past. But we are beginning to see that with AirTag, and it is encouraging,” he stated.
Dodge emphasized that a Bluetooth tag is just one component of a much larger technological issue, that our smartphones are ultimately the apps that stalk people. The tags are a very specific tool that can be dropped into a backpack or car’s wheel well.
However, they are part of a larger trend called tech-enabled location tracking, which can be done through an app for on-demand food delivery, parking, or fitness.