Review sees if Apple's AirTag prevents stalking with mixed results

Replace an AirTag battery by showing: Push in and twist counter clockwise on the metal to open
Replace an AirTag battery by showing: Push in and twist counter clockwise on the metal to open (Image credit: Joe Keller / iMore)

What you need to know

  • The Washington Post ran a stalking test for AirTag.
  • The results were mixed, especially for Android users.

Apple's AirTag may have more work to do to deter stalking.

A new review from The Washington Post put AirTag to the test when it comes to potential stalking issues. Geoffrey A. Fowler had his colleague Jonathan Baran slip an AirTag into his bag and try to stalk him across San Francisco for a week. The purpose was simple: would Geoffrey get alerted enough to realize he was being tracked by someone else?

While he did get alerted, he found mixed results. For one, the audible alert from the unwanted AirTag only rang after three days. And, while his iPhone did get an alert quite quickly, those aren't currently available to Android users. So, theoretically, someone could stalk an Android user for three days before they would be alerted that they were being tracked.

I got multiple alerts: from the hidden AirTag and on my iPhone. But it wasn't hard to find ways an abusive partner could circumvent Apple's systems. To name one: The audible alarm only rang after three days — and then it turned out to be just 15 seconds of light chirping. And another: While an iPhone alerted me that an unknown AirTag was moving with me, similar warnings aren't available for the roughly half of Americans who use Android phones.

AirTag battery cover

AirTag battery cover (Image credit: Joe Keller / iMore)

Kaiann Drance, Apple's Vice President of iPhone Marketing, said in an interview that the system is tunable, so Apple can change the timing and conditions of alerts as they understand more of what is needed to prevent these kinds of misuse.

"These are an industry-first, strong set of proactive deterrents," Kaiann Drance, Apple vice president of iPhone marketing, said in an interview. "It's a smart and tunable system, and we can continue improving the logic and timing so that we can improve the set of deterrents."

Drance did not confirm whether or not Apple consulted domestic abuse experts when developing AirTag, but said that "we are open to hearing anything from those organizations."

It does appear that Apple does the most to deter these kinds of abuses with its item tracker when compared to competing trackers like Tile, but scrutiny in this area is critical to ensure that even more is done where appropriate.

You can read the full review at The Washington Post.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.

  • So query: Does Tile or any other AirTag competitor have the same stalking problem? One would think that if it's a generic concern, that should be mentioned in reporting.
  • The Washington Post review does mention that AirTag does appear to have more features to prevent that than its competitors and I do mention that fact towards the end of this article, but I’m not sure exactly what additional issues Tile has in this area
  • I think Apple is the only one that does anything in this kudos. It's not a simple problem to solve, I imagine. What if Apple cut the time to alert to half a day. If parents stick a tag on their kid's backpacks, they'll all go off periodically at school. Some might still say half a day is still to long. What if you have tags on a number of things at home that you don't always have with you. When you go to work, they'll all start beeping sometime during the day, annoying the rest of the family and possibly giving pets something to search for. I bet some of you have dogs you'd rather not have searching for something in the couch.
    If someone has made off with something of mine, I certainly wouldn't want them notified they are being tracked shortly after they swipe it.
  • Definitely agree that Apple is doing more than most in this area but also interested to see if they can/will do even more to curb abuses like this. Sounds like they are open to it so that’s good news. Still important to know the current areas it falls short though. As far as tracking kids, that’s what an Apple Watch SE is for! AirTag was definitely not designed to track people or animals (maybe that’s unfortunately but so far the way it is). As far as leaving items at home, they shouldn’t go off even if they are around another user as the AirTag has not been detected as moving along with those other people, so I think we’re safe from that happening
  • Agree on the Apple Watch SE. Notice I didn't say kid, I said kid's backpack. That is what gets lost, or left behind. Last seen at school, or Bobby's house is useful.
  • Ah yeah I misinterpreted that. That would be helpful and something that I imagine will take Family Sharing to solve if they enable it