Can You Really Use Apple AirTags to Track People? An In-Depth Guide

February 11, 2024

Affiliate Disclaimer: HotAirTag is supported by its audience. If you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you!

Tracking people without consent raises major ethical and legal concerns. However, recent headlines about AirTag stalking have caused confusion about these devices’ capabilities. This comprehensive guide examines whether Apple’s trackers can be misused and what safeguards exist.

How AirTags Work: A Brief Technical Explanation

AirTags utilize Apple’s massive Find My network of over 1 billion devices to locate lost items. The key features:

  • AirTags emit a Bluetooth signal that pings nearby Apple devices. Those devices then relay the AirTag’s location back to the owner.
  • AirTags do not contain GPS. They piggyback off the GPS in iPhones to report location.
  • AirTags have a built-in speaker that plays a sound to help users locate a lost item when prompted through the Find My app.
Airtag Ease Of Use

Can AirTags Be Used to Track People Without Their Knowledge?

The short answer is yes, AirTags can be slipped into someone’s bag or car to track their location without consent.

This has happened in several recent headline-making cases:

  • In December 2021, Canadian police reported luxury cars being tracked by AirTags before being stolen.
  • A Sports Illustrated model reported finding an AirTag planted in her coat while out at a bar.
  • Reddit threads detail people discovering unknown AirTags on their possessions.

While AirTags provide stalkers a new method, this behavior is not new. Tile, GPS trackers, even cheap RFID chips have been misused this way for years.

Shop AirTag on Amazon

How Effective Are AirTags for Tracking Compared to Other Devices?

AirTags make location tracking far more feasible than earlier options like Bluetooth trackers.

Other key advantages:

  • Pinpoint accuracy: AirTags can locate within about 5-10 feet indoors via Find My and UWB precision finding. Older trackers rely on Bluetooth proximity which is far less exact.
  • Rapid updates: AirTags update locations often, sometimes within about a minute of moving. This enables real-time tracking versus sporadic updates.
  • Massive network: With over 1 billion Apple devices worldwide able to detect AirTags, few places exist where they won’t be seen. Tile’s network reaches just a fraction as many phones.
  • Inconspicuous: AirTags are small and easily hidden in bags, pockets, vehicles. Earlier GPS trackers were often bulky.
Airtag Additional Features

However, AirTags lack built-in GPS. Thus, they cannot provide location information in areas without Apple device coverage. Traditional GPS trackers retain this advantage.

What Steps Has Apple Taken to Prevent AirTag Stalking?

Apple has implemented multiple safeguards intended to deter tracking misuse:

  • Android scanning app: Android users can download Tracker Detect in the Google Play Store to check for unknown AirTags near them.
  • Automatic alerts: iPhones will notify their owners if an unknown AirTag travels with them over time. This works on iPhone 11 models and newer.
  • Sound alarm: AirTags separated from their owner will play a loud sound after a set period to alert anyone nearby.
  • Remote disabling: Apple can disable AirTags being misused from connecting to the Find My network.

Do These Measures Fully Prevent AirTag Stalking?

While well-intentioned, Apple’s current safeguards have loopholes that still enable misuse in certain scenarios:

  • Android limitations: Tracker Detect must be manually opened to scan for AirTags. It does not run passive background checks that trigger alerts like on iPhones.
  • Sound alarms: AirTag sounds can be muffled if placed in a car trunk, bag, pocket, etc. The sound is not loud enough to always be noticed.
  • Short disable window: AirTags only alarm and disable after 3 days separated from their owner. This provides a multi-day tracking window.
  • Proximity resets: Stalkers can reset the 3 day counter by getting temporarily near the AirTag, such as passing their target’s house.

So while Apple’s safeguards reduce misuse, significant room for improvement remains.

Real-World Examples of How AirTags Enable Stalking Despite Safeguards

Apple Airtag

Scenario 1: Tracking an Android User

  1. An iPhone owner slips an AirTag into the coat of an Android user at a bar.
  2. The owner can now closely track the target’s location in Find My as the AirTag pings nearby iPhones.
  3. The Android target receives no alerts about the unknown AirTag moving with them.
  4. After 3 days out of range, the AirTag begins making sound. But the target may not hear it if placed in a pocket or noisy environment.
  5. The stalker can also defeat the 3 day disable counter by briefly driving near the target to reset the timer.

In this scenario, the AirTag continues transmitting the target’s location indefinitely.

Scenario 2: Tracking Someone You Have Close Access To

  1. An AirTag owner plants a tracker in their partner’s car or bags that they have access to frequently.
  2. Whenever near the target in the shared home, office, or other locations, the stalker’s phone resets the 3 day disable counter.
  3. The target receives no alerts about the AirTag since it is “with its owner” during proximity resets.
  4. This allows the owner to track the target’s long-term movements without automatic safeguards kicking in.

Proximity and shared space access defeats Apple’s stalking protections.

Expert Tips to Guard Against Unwanted AirTag Tracking

While not flawless, Apple’s safeguards provide vital protection if utilized properly. Follow these expert recommendations:

  • Download and run Tracker Detect regularly if on Android. Make it part of your routine when arriving home or leaving parked cars.
  • Listen for unfamiliar AirTag sounds and hunt down the source. Criminals often hide them in bags, coat pockets, vehicles, and other concealed spaces.
  • If alerts indicate an unknown AirTag traveling with you, take immediate action to locate and disable it by removing the battery. Contact law enforcement if concerned for your safety.
  • Consider getting a GPS pet collar for your dog to provide location tracking as a backup to AirTags. Popular options like WhistleFi, and Tractive offer subscription-based monitoring.
  • Be cognizant of AirTags if allowing others access to your home, car, or belongings. Stalkers often plant trackers when given opportune proximity.

Key Takeaways: Core Facts About AirTag Tracking

  • AirTags utilize Bluetooth and Apple’s Find My network to relay locations, not internal GPS like some trackers.
  • Large tracking networks like Apple’s Find My enable misuse by providing highly accurate location data.
  • Loopholes exist allowing stalkers to defeat AirTag anti-stalking protections under certain conditions.
  • Safeguards are stronger for iPhone users, with Android users facing more risks.
  • While unethical and illegal, using AirTags to monitor people provides insights into stalker psychology.
  • With prudent precautions, most individuals can utilize AirTags constructively rather than destructively.

Frequently Asked Questions About AirTag Tracking

Can AirTags track my movements anywhere?

No, AirTags only provide location data when near compatible Apple devices. Areas without iPhones present limits tracking capabilities.

What is the difference between AirTags and GPS pet trackers?

AirTags rely on proximity to iPhones to update locations via Bluetooth. Dedicated GPS pet trackers like Whistle and Tractive use cellular signals to pinpoint locations and may not need constant phone connections.

Can police track the owner if an AirTag is used for stalking?

Yes. Apple can provide law enforcement details on the paired owner account to assist criminal investigations involving illegal tracking.

Why doesn’t Apple make AirTags only work for a few hours?

If AirTags had extremely short functioning times it would render them useless for finding lost items days later. Apple balances anti-stalking measures with usefulness.

Are any other AirTag safeguards coming?

Apple states they continue improving anti-stalking protections, suggesting updates like longer timeouts or louder sounds. But features preventing all malicious uses likely remain difficult.

The Bottom Line

  • Abuse of tracking technology raises serious ethical and privacy issues. Cases of AirTag stalking require urgent attention.
  • However, Apple has implemented multiple safeguards that, while imperfect, significantly improve security and detection versus earlier options.
  • With vigilant use of Apple’s protections, AirTags provide immense benefits to responsible owners. But prudent precautions are essential.
  • Ultimately, the core problem stems from behavior, not technology. And societal solutions should focus on stalking prevention and victim advocacy.

With thoughtful safeguards and ethical use, AirTag tracking can empower far more than it endangers. But improving social supports and education around technology-enabled abuse remains critical.