Apple Find My misuse saw a SWAT team descend on a 77-year-old grandmother for no reason

Riot police
(Image credit: Pixabay / parameciorecords)

A 77-year-old grandmother opened her door to a SWAT team earlier this year because they thought that a stolen truck and guns were being hidden in her garage. They thought that solely because someone had used Apple's Find My network to locate it. But there was a problem.

That problem was the big blue circle that was shown on the Find My app, highlighting that it wasn't sure exactly where the truck was because a firm location wasn't available. But that didn't stop a police officer from getting a search warrant and letting a SWAT team lose on the woman.

Faulty info

Ars Technica (opens in new tab) reports that Ruby Johnson's home became a point of interest because of a stolen truck with an iPhone and guns inside. The truck's owner had used the Find My service to locate where they thought their iPhone must be, driving around in a rental car to try and pin things down. Johnson's garage was fingered as the likely storage place.

However, the police officer in charge of the case either didn't understand, or didn't care, that the Find My location was in a large blue circle because that location wasn't confirmed, likely due to a poor GPS fix. That meant that "the blue circle covered an area spanning at least six different properties and parts of four different blocks” according to a complaint filed last week. Johnson is suing the Denver Police Department (opens in new tab) (DPD) over the incident.

After receiving a search warrant and SWAT team, police entered Johnson's home, broke items, and even poked holes in her ceiling to search for items that simply weren't there.

“DPD is working with the Denver District Attorney’s office to develop additional training for officers and assistant district attorneys related to seeking warrants based upon Find My phone applications,” a DPD spokesperson told Ars Technica.

The Find My network is one of the best iPhone, iPad, and Mac tools available to people who lose their devices, but its limitations are apparent in situations like this. The truck was likely in that blue circle somewhere at some point. Unfortunately for one 77-year-old woman, so was she. 

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.