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Stunning test reveals privacy dangers of other trackers 'way worse' than AirTags

AirTag Keychain
AirTag Keychain (Image credit: Joe Keller / iMore)

What you need to know

  • A NYT reporter secretly tracked her husband with AirTags and rival devices for a story.
  • The results reveal that the AirTag was better for "tracking" than a specialized device and that there were some difficulties with safeguards.
  • However, it concludes that the privacy dangers of other trackers like Tile were much worse.

A New York Times reporter who secretly tracked her husband with a multitude of trackers including Apple's AirTag has revealed that while there are indeed privacy concerns, other similar devices are much more of a safety concern.

Kashmir Hill writing for the New York Times took to testing the claims that Apple's AirTag did not have adequate safety protections for tracking:

I decided to examine both claims by planting three AirTags, three Tiles, and a GPS tracker on my husband and his belongings to see how precisely they revealed his movements and which ones he discovered.

Hill found the tracker was better than the AirTag and the tile in sparsely populated areas, but that the AirTag's effectiveness "skyrocketed the day my husband traveled to New York City, because he was surrounded by people carrying iPhones."

Hill notes that within two hours of filling their car with trackers, her husband had received an alert to say that an AirTag was moving with him that couldn't be identified:

The problem was that he couldn't find it. The alert said he could make the AirTag play a sound, but when he attempted to do so, his phone wouldn't connect to the device. This happened multiple times, and he started to get frustrated. "Is it in my shoe?" he asked me at one point, taking his blue Nike off and peering at it. "You have to tell me. I don't want to destroy my shoe looking for it."The one time his iPhone connected to the AirTag in the car, so he could play the noise, it was so hard to tell where it was coming from that he gave up looking for it after five minutes.

Hill concludes, like critics of the AirTag, that Apple's safeguards to stop tracking are not foolproof. However, Hill's husband had absolutely no idea about the Tile trackers also following him, or the specialized GPS tracking device. The article concludes:

"For all the bad press the AirTags have gotten, and as flaky as the detection mechanisms were, at least I was consistently getting notifications they were following me," he said. "The privacy dangers of the other trackers were way worse."

This week Apple announced new plans to make AirTags safer, adding new warnings about tracking to the setup process. It is also adding Precision Finding to avert the issue of not being able to find an AirTag even if you know one is being used to track you, it is also going to make the AirTag's sound louder and send out alerts earlier.

Stephen Warwick
Stephen Warwick

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.

1 Comment
  • "within two hours ... her husband had ... an alert ... that an AirTag was moving with him"
    This is a tough problem. Imagine you get on an airplane. You are on the middle seat and the two beside you have AirTags on their keys. Maybe the 3 in front of you and behind you do too. In 2 hours, you will have 9 AirTags and iPhones all notifying their owners of foreign trackers. Eight for each person. That assumes the proximity of a foreign tracker is pretty limited to be considered 'following'. Don't know if they could include in the algorithm a check for the number of following AirTags to solve the Bus/Plane problem, but there are probably a lot of these sorts of considerations so AirTags keep their utility, consider safety, but don't become annoying.