Apple AirTags: How the device works and why it’s raising security concerns

TAIPEI, TAIWAN - 2021/09/24: A woman walks past an Apple logo on the building of the A13 Apple store in Taipei after the launch of the new iPhone 13 series phones. (Photo by Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Apple AirTag is a device created to help people keep track of their misplaced items. But the seemingly harmless tool is being used by some to track people and commit car thefts. As authorities investigate these incidents, the devices are raising privacy and security concerns. 

What is an Apple AirTag?

An Apple AirTag is a coin-sized device used to help people locate personal items. AirTags can be attached to a key or backpack and consumers can track down their belongings with relative ease.

AirTags require the following Apple products to operate: An iPhone SE, iPhone 6s or later, an iPod touch with iOS 14.5, iPad Pro, iPad, iPad Air 2 or later, an iPad mini 4 or later iPhone to be on iOS 14.5.

The starting price for AirTags is $29 for a basic model. More expensive versions of the device are available in the form of an AirTag Hermès with prices ranging from $299 to $449. 

Security and safety concerns related to Apple AirTags

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Brooks Nader said that a stranger planted an Apple AirTag in her coat while she was at a New York City bar on January 7. Nader said someone tracked her for several hours, even as she walked home alone. 

According to Nader, she left her coat on the back of a chair and believed that's when someone dropped it in. She said the individual stalked her for five hours as she went to different New York City bars. 

In Michigan, a man received a notification on his phone that said he was being tracked by an unknown AirTag on Dec. 15, 2021. He used the notification to have the AirTag make a sound and he located the device under his car. FOX2 Detroit reported that criminals track a targeted vehicle and pick an ideal time to steal it. 

A Mississippi woman received a cell phone notificationthat a person was tracking her location using a device that had been placed on or near her or her property on Dec. 27, 2021, according to FOX26 Houston. 

In Austin, Texas a man found an Apple AirTag between the passenger seat and center console of a truck on Dec. 9, 2021. He reportedly purchased that was stolen. Additionally, Canadian Police reported five car theft cases related to the device have been investigated since September 2021. 

Are Apple AirTags considered GPS trackers?

Apple AirTags are created to prevent unwanted tracking. According to the Apple website, the AirTag will send out a Bluetooth signal that is detected by devices in "Find My network." These devices send the location of an AirTag to iCloud. Apple users can visit "Find My app" and view it on a map. The tech company said the process is anonymous and encrypted to protect your privacy. 

How to find an Apple AirTag on your car

Apple AirTags use Bluetooth signals in order for Apple devices to locate them. According to FOX5 New York, a Bluetooth tracker for iOS is used to scan the surrounding area to determine if an Apple AirTag is nearby. 

What should drivers do?

FOX10 Phoenix spoke with Canadian police on Dec. 3, 2021 to discuss what drivers can do to protect themselves. 

According to the York Regional Police, drivers should do the following:

  1. Park their car inside a locked garage
  2. Use a steering wheel lock
  3. Install a data port lock in order to prevent thieves from accessing it and reprogram the car keys
  4. Use a quality video surveillance system
  5. Inspect a vehicle regularly

FOX2 Detroit, FOX5 New York, FOX26 Houston, and FOX 10 Phoenix contributed to this story.

This story was reported from Washington, D.C.