I asked a friend to let me track her with an AirTag

Police departments across the country are getting reports of Apple AirTag trackers being discovered by people who had no idea they were being tracked. AirTags were released last year as a way for Apple users to find or locate whatever they wanted to keep track of. Ideally, the AirTags could be attached to a set of keys, a purse, a backpack, or other items the owner does not want to lose.

Similar to other trackers such as the Tile or Chipolo trackers, AirTags are better equipped to be located since they use Apple’s “Find My” feature and map. “Find My” used to be called “Find My Phone”. The technology allows any Apple device such as an iPhone, iPad, AirPods, or AirTags to connect automatically through Bluetooth to any Apple device with “Find My” turned on. Since there are millions of Apple devices with the Find My app, AirTags can transmit and receive Bluetooth signals or “pings” to help the owner locate the device.

Earlier on, privacy and security experts warned of how AirTags could be used to stalk or track another person. 

I asked a good friend, Jessica Woods, to allow me to place an Apple AirTag under her car seat. We tossed it inside and she drove away. She didn’t have to turn on anything or respond on her own iPhone. 

After she left, I could locate her using the “Find My” app and map on my iPhone. I saw where she went next to a friend’s house. When she left, I saw that she went to a restaurant/coffee shop. When she left there, her location appeared again as she picked up her kids from school and again when she arrived back at her home.

Anytime I wanted to know where Jessica was, I simply opened the app to see her location on a map. When she was at the restaurant, the app showed me her precise location down to the parking spot where she left her car.

Even when she didn’t leave the “Find My” app searched and pinged her location from other iPhones near her. According to Apple, the AirTag has a range of about 33 feet. If another iPhone came within that distance, it pinged the AirTag and showed the location on my phone.

In the past several months there have been a number of anecdotal stories from young women who say they received a notification on their phone that an AirTag had been traveling with them and that the owner could see their location.

Tapping one of those notifications, Jessica could make a chirping or beeping sound come from my AirTag to help her find it. The sound, she said later, was not loud enough for her to hear it unless the car was stopped and no other noise was coming from the radio or someone else talking. 

The notification she received did give her steps to disable the AirTag which led her to remove the AirTag battery so it could not be tracked.

Make no mistake though, AirTags work and they work very well. The owner of the AirTag will be able to locate it as long as it gets near another iPhone with the “Find My” feature turned on, and most iPhone owners have it turned on to keep track of their phone in the event they leave it behind.