Apple AirTags are a stalker’s dream device, lawsuit says

The proposed class action accuses Apple of negligently marketing the tiny trackers. Plaintiffs’ stories of abuse echo what a Sun-Times investigation found in Chicago.

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Apple AirTags, which retail for $29 and are the size of a half-dollar coin, are a popular way to locate lost keys or wallets. But critics says they’re also used by stalkers to track victims.

Apple AirTags, which retail for $29 and are the size of a half-dollar coin, are a popular way to locate lost keys or wallets. But critics says they’re also used by stalkers to track victims.

Sun-Times file

A federal lawsuit targeting Apple and its popular AirTags tracker says the tech device that was created to help people track down their lost keys and wallets has “become the weapon of choice of stalkers and abusers.”

The lawsuit accuses Apple of negligently marketing AirTags despite warnings from privacy experts and advocates for domestic violence victims that they easily could be misused.

The suit, filed in northern California, seeks nationwide certification as a class action — meaning it would apply to others as well as the two women who filed it — and more than $5 million in damages.

The stalking dangers it points to mirror the findings of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation last May that found numerous reports of AirTags planted on unsuspecting victims in Chicago.

Soon after AirTags first became available in April 2021, stalkers in Chicago figured out how to attach them to their victims’ cars and other items, the Sun-Times found. Between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, people filed 33 police reports saying AirTags were used to track them, without their knowledge, via Bluetooth technology.

“It’s the exact same thing,” says Gillian L. Wade, the Los Angeles lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Texas woman who says she was stalked after breaking off a three-month relationship and a New York woman who says her ex-husband stalked her by putting AirTags in their child’s backpack.

The Texas plaintiff, Lauren Hughes, was harassed so badly in 2021, the suit says, that she decided to move to a new apartment. But the suit says that, while staying at a hotel before the move, she was horrified to find an AirTag attached to a rear wheel well of her car. The suit says the man also taunted her on social media, posting a photo from her new neighborhood with a winking emoji and a hashtag referring to AirTags.

The tracking devices are easy to use, accurate and inexpensive, selling for about $29 each.

They emit signals that are detected by Bluetooth sensors in any nearby Apple product, creating what the lawsuit describes as a network of “hundreds of millions” of Apple devices in the United States. That ubiquitous Apple network makes AirTags highly accurate but also “uniquely harmful,” the suit says.

It says outside experts warned Apple that AirTags could be misused but that the tech giant dismissed those concerns, falsely touting the product as “stalker-proof.”

“It’s a dangerous product that they released into the marketplace knowingly,” Wade says.

Attorney Gillian L. Wade.

Attorney Gillian L. Wade.

Provided

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

Last spring, the company said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products.” It also said then that it was willing to work with police to identify Apple IDs that are paired with AirTags used in stalking cases.

AirTags do have features to prevent misuse, including a notification to iPhone users letting them know an AirTag is in their vicinity.

The device also emits a chime when it’s away from its owner for a period of time, which the lawsuit says ranges from eight to 24 hours.

Critics say those measures aren’t enough because the notification isn’t instant, and the chime isn’t particularly loud or distinctive and can be disabled.

People with Android phones don’t get a notification. They need to download a free Tracker Detect app and frequently check it to have any hope of detecting an unwanted tracker, the suit says.

The lawsuit notes that AirTags were used to track victims in two murders — one in Akron, Ohio, last January in which an ex-boyfriend stalked and shot a woman and then killed himself, the other in Indianapolis in June in which a woman was accused of tracking her boyfriend, whom she suspected of cheating, to a bar and then running him over with a car.

The suit accuses Apple of negligence for selling a product with a known design defect. It also says the trackers violate California’s privacy law.

The Sun-Times found complaints about AirTag stalking all over the city, with victims often puzzled at first at how their abusers found them — until they discovered hidden AirTags.

Wade says that since the lawsuit was filed Monday, she has heard “horrifying” stories from around the country from other women and men who said they were stalked using AirTags.

“What we really want here is for people to be safe,” she says. “This puts your privacy in the control of somebody else — and your autonomy and your safety. And it’s just not OK.”

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