Let’s talk about AirTags!

Let’s talk about AirTags!
By Jillian Luicci | March 16, 2022

Apple released a product called the AirTag in April 2021. The product costs $29 and is advertised to help users keep track of their belongings. (Apple, 2022) Some of the items Apple suggests tracking with an AirTag include keys, bikes, and luggage. The AirTag integrates with “Find My”, an Apple application which previously has been used to access the GPS of Apple products like iPhones and AirPods; the tag uses bluetooth technology to find the GPS of the product using the GPS of other nearby bluetooth-enabled Apple devices.

However, there have been many recent incidents of stalking using AirTags highlighted in news outlets. (Levitt, 2011) In most of these cases, the victims received a notification on their phone that there has been an AirTag tracking them for some amount of hours. The victims initially feel violated because they did not consent to their location data being tracked in the first place. Further, the victim did not consent to the dissemination of this data to the AirTag owner.

Young female character hiding in the bushes and looking through binoculars. Spying, conceptual illustration. Special agent. Secret mission. Sneak peek. Flat vector illustration, clip art

The California Attorney General recently released some privacy recommendations, which appear to have been violated by this abuse of AirTags for stalking. (California, 2014) First, they recommend a “Do Not Track” principle which traditionally refers to notifying and requesting consent from users prior to tracking their clicks and activities when web browsing. This principle draws parallels to the use of Apple AirTags. While the AirTag victim is not web browsing, the “Do Not Track” principle can still be applied to AirTags. Regardless of the technology used for tracking, the principle broadly speaks to the necessity of consent prior to passively tracking people’s data. Additionally, the recommendations include principles around data sharing, individual access, and accountability. These recommendations are gaps in Apple’s privacy policy. In this case, the recommendations are not exhaustive enough to extend to the rights of the victims because they never consented or necessarily reviewed the Apple AirTag policies.

When the stalking victims become aware of the device via the Apple alert, the victims often seek the assistance of police in order to deactivate the AirTag. The victims typically leave disappointed because the police are unable to assist without identifying the physical device. The AirTags are often difficult to find due to the small size of the device and the stalkers deliberately camouflaging the devices. Notably, only Apple users can receive alerts regarding AirTags tracking them. This excludes Android Users from this safety control.

As a result of these stalking cases, Apple recently released updates to AirTag and Find My. (AirTags, 2022) They have included software updates to notify AirTag users that the device is not meant for tracking people and to provide more precise tracking when a device is detected nearby. While these updates define the intent of the product, the changes do not promote informed consent nor does it prevent unwanted data dissemination. Further, these changes can only be effective if the victim is an informed Apple user. There are still risks for people who are targeted that do not know the risks associated with being tracked by an AirTag and the options to remove unwanted AirTags.

Apple should consider performing an ethical assessment of AirTags. The Belmont Report is a respected paper which defines three basic ethical principles: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.(Belmont, `979) The application of AirTags for stalking violates all three of these principles. First, AirTags violate respect for persons because the victims do not consent to the collection and dissemination of their data. Second, beneficence is violated because the physical risks related to stalking far outweigh the benefits of finding an item such as keys. Third, justice is violated because it is illegal to stalk people. Overall, this product has potentially harmful applications to unsuspecting people. While Apple has attempted to resolve some of the concerns, there are still many glaring problems with AirTags that Apple should address immediately.


[1] Apple. 2022. AirTag. [online] Available at: <https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-airtag/airtag/1-pack?afid=p238%7CsyU1UIAS3-dc_mtid_1870765e38482_pcrid_516270124941_pgrid_116439818610_pntwk_g_pchan_online_pexid__&cid=aos-us-kwgo-pla-btb–slid—product-MX532AM%2FA> [Accessed 11 March 2022].

[2] Levitt, M., 2022. AirTags are being used to track people and cars. Here’s what is being done about it. [online] Npr.org. Available at: <https://www.npr.org/2022/02/18/1080944193/apple-airtags-theft-stalking-privacy-tech> [Accessed 11 March 2022].

[3] California Attorney General. Making Your Privacy Practices Public: Recommendations on Developing a Meaningful Privacy Policy. May 2014. https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/cybersecurity/making_your_privacy_practices_public.pdf

[4] Apple. 2022. AirTag. [online] Available at: <https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-airtag/airtag/1-pack?afid=p238%7CsyU1UIAS3-dc_mtid_1870765e38482_pcrid_516270124941_pgrid_116439818610_pntwk_g_pchan_online_pexid__&cid=aos-us-kwgo-pla-btb–slid—product-MX532AM%2FA> [Accessed 11 March 2022].

[5] The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. April 18, 1979. https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/sites/default/files/the-belmont-report-508c_FINAL.pdf