Despite Apple’s best efforts to the contrary, the company’s AirTag trackers have become a convenient, cheap and effective way to track people since the tiny tracking devices were released in April 2021.
AirTags use Apple’s Find My network so that nearby iPhones and iPads can pick up their signals and transmit them to Apple, along with the location. The owner of the AirTag is then informed of the location of the AirTag.
As there are nearly a billion iPhones in use worldwide, an AirTag can be accurately located by its owner anywhere there are people with iPhones nearby, even underground or in buildings.
Near-constant local news about apparent AirTag harassment, stories that show how easy it is to stalk someone using AirTags, and most recently, two state attorneys general issuing consumer warnings about the AirTag harassment led Apple to recently promise to update its apps to make it more effective at detecting and finding malicious AirTags.
However, most of these changes won’t be ready for months. In the meantime, here’s what you can do to make sure someone else’s AirTag isn’t stalking you.
If you have an iPhone 6s or later, update your device to the latest possible version of iOS.
Devices with at least iOS 14.5 installed will receive notifications about nearby AirTags and other devices that use location services from Apple’s Find My network. You will only receive notifications if these devices have been separated from their paired iPhones or iPads and tracked your own iPhone or iPad‘s movements for a few hours.
Devices with at least iOS 15.2 installed will be able to use these notifications to wirelessly disable detected AirTags.
Make sure you have enabled notifications on Find Unknown devices. Go to the Find My app on your iPhone or iPad, tap the Me icon in the bottom right and scroll down to make sure “Object Safety Alerts” is turned on.
If you have an Android phone, download the AirGuard app from the Google Play Store, install it, and turn on Bluetooth. AirGuard is compatible with Android 5.0 Lollipop and later, so most Android phones and tablets released after 2012 should support it.
AirGuard will periodically scan around you and give you the same type of Find My malicious device notifications that iOS 14.5 provides iPhone users. (Apple’s Android Tracker Detect app is less useful because it doesn’t scan automatically and requires at least Android 9.0 Pie.)
With AirGuard installed and updated, iPhone and Android users will be pretty much on equal footing, at least for now. But the anti-harassment changes Apple has promised for later in 2022 will primarily help iPhone users.
If you don’t have a smartphone or are using one that can’t be updated to iOS 14.5 or Android 5, the only type of notification you’ll receive that someone else’s AirTag is is in close proximity is a persistent beep. .
An AirTag will start beeping 24 hours after being separated from its paired iPhone or iPad. It doesn’t have to “move with you” – it could just be lost.
Compared to the notifications that modern iPhone users receive after a few hours, this 24-hour waiting period puts people without smartphones, Android users without AirGuard, and iPhone 6 or earlier users at a disadvantage when it comes to notifications. is to be warned of possible attempts at harassment using AirTags.
iPhone notifications that an AirTag can track you
Apple’s notification system for malicious AirTags can be a bit confusing. It’s intended to detect all Find My devices, including AirTags, AirPods, and third-party devices like dog collars and e-bikes, that have been separated for at least a few hours from their paired iPhones and mirror their movements. your iPhone.
Notifications may display the words “Unknown device detected”, “Unknown accessory detected”, “Unknown AirTag detected”, “Item detected near you”, “AirTag found moving with you”, or something similar. They will also display a map of your general area to show how the device has moved with you.
But you will need to determine if the detected device is really a threat. For example, “Unknown device detected,” a message that has appeared in multiple AirTag harassment reports, could simply point to a lost pair of AirPods on your bus or train.
Theoretically, a pair of AirPods could also be used to track you, but that’s unlikely as they cost at least six times as much as a $29 AirTag. If the rightful owner of the AirTag, AirPods, or other tracking device has marked them as lost, you may see a message in the iPhone notification about how to contact the owner.
Apple plans to clarify soon, as best it can, exactly what your iPhone detects. Your phone should already tell you if it’s fairly certain the device is an AirTag, and in a few months some messages might say “AirPods Pro detected.”
If the iPhone can’t tell exactly what it’s detecting, the notification will always be “Unknown device detected” or “Unknown accessory detected” even though it’s actually an AirTag.
Android Notifications That Mean an AirTag May Be Tracking You
On Android, the AirGuard app will display a notification on your screen that says “A tracker has been discovered!” Tap the notification and you’ll get a display of the detected devices’ MAC address (i.e. its Bluetooth chip’s unique ID).
You’ll also see the date and time the device was first and most recently detected, along with a map and timeline showing how it reflected your movements.
Apple’s Tracker Detect app for Android is easier. You have to start the scan manually, and while you won’t be doing it all day, it might be a good idea to do it when you leave a crowded public place like a bar, restaurant, mall, or music venue.
If Tracker Detect finds a possible unauthorized AirTag, it will display the words “Unknown AirTag” and tell you how long it has been spotted. But you won’t get a map or timeline.
Sounds that could mean an AirTag is stalking you
As noted above, an AirTag will start beeping if it’s been separated from its paired iPhone or iPad for more than 24 hours, whether it’s just lost or actively tracking you. This is the only way for a person without a smartphone, or whose smartphone is dead, to detect an AirTag.
However, this chirp is not very loud. It can be difficult to hear if the AirTag is in a coat pocket, a bulky purse, inside packed luggage, or outside a car. And there is already a gray market that resells AirTags whose speakers have been disconnected.
Apple says it will make the lost AirTag sounds more distinctive, if not louder, in the coming months.
What to do if you detect a malicious AirTag
If you get a notification on your phone from an unknown device or tracker, or hear an AirTag beep, what you do next depends on whether you’re home.
If you’re traveling, don’t go home right away. First you need to find the device and possibly disable it. If you are already at home, you need to find it as soon as possible. There are several ways.
The most obvious is to follow the sound of the chirps. You may need to empty coat pockets or purses, remove cushions from sofas, or examine the exterior of a car. (Check inside the gas cap door or behind a license plate.)
If you have an iPhone running iOS 14.5 to 15.1, you can force the device to start chirping right from the notification alerts on your phone. The same goes for Android phones with AirGuard or Tracker Detect installed, although the former lets you force beeps immediately, while Apple’s app makes you wait 10 minutes.
If your iPhone is running iOS 15.2 or later, you can wirelessly disable the AirTag right from the notification screen without physically finding it.
Think twice, because it’s possible the AirTag (or other device) was lost in good faith, and disabling it means its rightful owner won’t be able to use Find My to locate their missing item.
For everyone else, you need to find the actual device, and for now that means following the tweets.
Later this year, Apple will roll out an update to Precision Finding for iPhone 11 and later devices. This will use the UltraWideBand chips in those phones to display on screen how far you are from the AirTag and which direction it is facing – a feature that currently only works with AirTags that are legitimately paired to your iPhone. .
What to do if you find a rogue AirTag
Once you find the AirTag, do not destroy it. First, you want to get the serial number, which can be shown in rogue-AirTag notifications you receive on an iPhone; the serial number can also be found by tapping an NFC-enabled Android phone against the AirTag.
Once done, you can deactivate the AirTag by pressing the center of the back panel and twisting the panel counterclockwise. The panel will come off and inside is a standard CR2302 watch battery that you can just pop out.
The serial number is also printed inside the rear panel. Apple recommends that you go to the police and report the incident with the AirTag’s serial number, which will allow Apple to track down the rightful (and possibly misguided) owner.