How to see if an Apple AirTag is tracking you

On the 20th December I caught an article from the Washington Post covering AirTags, how they can be used for evil, and—most importantly—how you can protect yourself. And I thought I'd share this information, because it seems more important for your safety and security than a paywall.

So, let's start with the basics.

What is the Apple AirTag?

Photo by <a href="" target="_blank">Thai Nguyen</a> on <a href="" target="_blank">Unsplash</a>

Photo by Thai Nguyen on Unsplash

AirTags are Apple's answer to Tile Bluetooth trackers. These little things can be placed on or in just about anything you want to keep track of. They're are very simple in design/functionality. These battery-powered trackers run on Bluetooth Low Energy ("BLE") which means they barely consume any battery, and all they really do is wait for a Bluetooth scanning device to call out to it before it answers. At that point they will answer, "Here I am! I belong to so-and-so!" (BLE is a really cool technology I'd love to write about. I honestly wish I wrote articles instead of code. But, I mean, one pays the bills better. But I digress. The important thing about BLE for these purposes is that the devices can last a long time on a small amount of energy.)

AirTags, like Tile trackers, rely on a network of devices to locate them and transmit them to a central server. AirTags require iPhones for full functionality and sync their locations in iCloud.

Really, all you need is a bunch of iPhones that don't belong to you and you can track anything you put an AirTag on. While they aren't actually GPS transmitters, they're the next best thing: they provide crowdsourced location tracking for whatever you attach these devices to. This way, in case you ever lose your luggage at the airport, you'll know exactly where it is! Or, if someone wants to track your sweet BMW Z4 M40i convertible to your home so they can rob you late at night, they can.

Those crafty thieves

Reports have come from from Ontario, Georgia, Michigan where high-end car owners found AirTags attached to their vehicles, writes Chris Velazco of the Washington Post. All they need to do is attach a magnet to the AirTag (or maybe just Gorilla tape), and when no one is looking pop it on a Tesla's undercarriage. Since iPhones are so ubiquitous, while you drive hom—oh wait maybe a Tesla is a bad example. Eh, let's just go with a Boxter.

Since iPhones are so ubiquitous, while you drive home every single iPhone you drive by is gonna ping the Airtag taped to your Porsche. And if your neighbors who have iPhones (or even you) walk by the car after you've parked it in your driveway, its final location is available right on iCloud. Then at 3am, said crafty thief will pop in and jack your beautiful sports car (assuming they can drive sick) and you're left having to file police reports and calling out of work.

Photo by <a href="" target="_blank">Bastian Pudill</a> on <a href="" target="_blank">Unsplash</a>. And yes, I know it's not a Porsche

Photo by Bastian Pudill on Unsplash. And yes, I know it's not a Porsche

So, how can I stop this?

Diligence is always the key. While I'd actually recommend you start with the basics (Left of Bang if you need the basics), I can't expect everyone to have the time or inclination to become an expert at situational awareness. Additionally, these crafty thieves are probably going to plant the AirTag on your vehicle while you're picking out Louboutins for your wife at King of Prussia—not while you're anywhere near your fancy 718. Luckily, there's a techy way.

iOS and iPadOS users:

With an iPhone, it's easy. With the latest iOS—well , since 14.5—your phone will notify you if you're near an AirTag that doesn't belong to you.

Using Find My you can get the AirTag to play a sound to help you locate it.

Android users:

And since Apple want to ensure everyone can utilize their AirTags, even if they're a lowly Android user (and listen, I get it; I got an iPod back in 2003 and now I'm typing this up on an iMac using my Magic Keyboard—and though I usually use the Magic Trackpad, it ran out of batteries so I'm using the Magic Mouse—oh not to mention I'd been an iPhone user since 2010). Apple developed and released Tracker Detect in the Play Store for you guys. it's very intuitive. Download the app, agree to the terms, allow all the permissions it asks, go to your little coupe and hit the Scan button.

The app will help you locate any nearby trackers, especially if they don't belong to you. The app will allow you to play a noise on the AirTag so you can locate it.

Well, I found one. What now?

If you find an AirTag that isn't yours on your property, you should immediately call the police or 911. You can also remove the CR2032 battery that powers it. Doing so will cease any transmissions from the AirTag to the Crafty Thieves via your phone and iCloud.

All you have to do is push down on the metal plate and turn it clockwise. Then you will expose the battery for you to extract.

The AirTag will still have relayed its location to iCloud before you disabled it, so don't think you can skip the call to law enforcement, unless you happened to find the AirTag when you got back to your car on the 2nd floor car park at King of Prussia. At that point I'd just toss the thing and go home.

So, ultimately, what does this mean for me?

Oh. Right. If you have an Android device and a fancy car—or at least stuff at your own home you don't want stolen and are paranoid enough to worry about this—you'll have to be very proactive with your tracker tracking. For iPhone users, your device already monitors your surroundings; you just have to pay attention to the notifications.

And ultimately ultimately, it means if you follow these basic steps you will be one step ahead of any would-be thieves who try to rob you using technology!


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Published: 12/22/2021 2:50am


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