Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Apple for AirTags’ “safeguards against stalking deemed deficient”; 2 Murders So Far

By B.N. Frank

Of course, tracking technology existed before Apple introduced its increasingly controversial AirTags (see 1, 2, 3).  Apple executives, however, claimed that their company’s devices were “stalker-proof” when reports continue to prove that clearly isn’t the case.

From Ars Technica:

Stalkers’ “chilling” use of AirTags spurs class-action suit against Apple

Class action covers anyone in the US who owns iOS or Android devices.

Ashley Belanger

When Apple released AirTags in 2021, the small electronic tracking devices were touted by top executives as being “stalker-proof.” Since then, Vice reported a minimum of 150 police cases documenting stalkers using AirTags, and there have already been two severe stalking cases involving AirTags that ended in murder in Ohio and Indiana.

Confronted by police reports and concerns from privacy advocates, Apple released updates in February, claiming that new features would mitigate reported stalking risks. Stalking reports kept coming, though, and it increasingly seemed to victims that Apple had not done enough to adequately secure AirTags. Now, Apple is being sued by two women who claim that the company is still marketing a “dangerous” product.

In the complaint filed yesterday in a federal court in California, the women suing Apple say that AirTags have become “one of the most dangerous and frightening technologies employed by stalkers.” It has become the “weapon of choice,” they say, because the small size makes the devices hard to detect, the accuracy of Apple’s location tracking is “unparalleled,” and the $29 price is extremely affordable. Victims say that stalkers can effectively track them, and if the device gets deactivated, AirTags are easy to replace at the next opportunity.

These AirTags are supposed to work by emitting Bluetooth signals to Apple’s massive “Find My” network of connected devices, accurately reporting the location of a missing AirTag to the owner. The coat button-size tracking devices can be easily clipped to key rings or dropped in purses to help owners recover lost items.

But the AirTags are also so small that they can easily go undetected, especially when stalkers alter the devices to make them harder to find. For one woman suing, Lauren Hughes, her ex-boyfriend allegedly used a Sharpie to color the AirTag and hide it inside the wheel well of her car. The other woman suing, who remains anonymous out of fear for her physical safety, found an AirTag that her “estranged husband” had allegedly planted in her child’s backpack. When she removed the device from the backpack, it was soon replaced by another.

Lawyers representing the women suing did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.

Apple previously acknowledged “reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes,” describing in a blog how the company had partnered with law enforcement to help trace AirTags back to the stalkers who owned them. They also said they worked with safety groups to take other steps to prevent unwanted tracking and promised to release a “series of updates” before the end of this year. So far, Apple has not made any mention on its blog of those updates and did not immediately respond to Ars’ request to comment on whether those updates are still expected to be released in 2022.

The lawsuit Apple now faces is not just about two women being harassed by stalkers using AirTags. It’s a class-action lawsuit that represents all persons residing in the United States who own iOS and Android devices, as well as other sub-classes at risk of stalking.

Plaintiffs suing represent various stalked classes. They are asking for a jury to assess whether, in addition to injunctive relief and damages, Apple should owe punitive damages for allegedly releasing a defective product with insufficient safeguards to prevent stalking, then profiting off sales after allegedly misleading the public to believe AirTags were “stalker-proof.”

“This is problematic for all Class members, as they are unlikely to learn of the dangers associated with AirTags until they have become victims of stalking,” the complaint states.

AirTag safeguards against stalking deemed deficient

The complaint alleges that the Apple AirTag has “revolutionized” location-based stalking by creating a tool with the sole purpose of transmitting its location to its owner and then dismissing warnings from privacy experts to “consider its inevitable use in stalking.” Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of cybersecurity, Eva Galperin, described AirTags as “uniquely harmful” and was quoted in the complaint as saying that “the network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”

Quickly after releasing AirTags, the complaint says that immediately, Apple was inundated with “chilling” stalking reports, including stalkers sewing AirTags into clothing to evade discovery. Soon, Apple was “scrambling to address its failures in protecting people from unwanted, dangerous tracking,” the complaint says.

One of the earliest solutions from Apple was providing text-based notifications for iOS users, alerting them when there was an “AirTag Found Moving With You.” However, users couldn’t always trust this alert was accurate—or referring to an AirTag device located near them in a crowd—and they couldn’t always find the tracking device, even if they knew it existed. For Android users, the situation was even bleaker because Apple had no way to send automatic alerts. Android users, thus, became “nearly defenseless to tracking/stalking using an AirTag,” because the only way to find out was to proactively download an app called Tracker Detect and manually search for AirTags.

“Any Android owner who downloads Tracker Detect must decide when and where to scan for AirTags—something a person being unknowingly tracked would be unlikely to do,” the complaint states.

Another solution that Apple has implemented is playing sound notifications when an AirTag is detected, chiming an alert at 60 decibels (“as loud as a normal conversation between two people,” the complaint says). This is not an effective solution, the complaint says, for hearing-impaired people or anyone located in a loud environment when the warning sounds. It also doesn’t help when stalkers cleverly place the device out of hearing range. In Hughes’ case, with an AirTag hidden in the wheel well of her car, she’d likely never hear the warning chime, and when she attempted to engage the AirTag feature to chime when she was searching for the hidden device, the chime only rang once.

Women suing say that even if the text and sound notifications were effective solutions for iOS users, stalkers have already found a way around the safeguard. “Silent AirTags” are sold on e-commerce sites like Etsy and eBay, the complaint says, disabling the speaker that is supposed to protect vulnerable targets of stalking. (A recent Ars review found “silent AirTags” for sale on Etsy, but not eBay.)

In addition to these features, Apple also promised more updates yet to be announced in 2022. These include “precision finding” to help victims using iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 to locate unwanted trackers, as well as syncing text alerts with sound alerts to “help in cases where the AirTag may be in a location where it is hard to hear, or if the AirTag speaker has been tampered with.” They also promised “to use more of the loudest tones to make an unknown AirTag more easily findable.”

The most troublesome aspect of Apple relying on alerts like these to prevent stalking—rather than proactively designing a product that cannot be used by stalkers—is that these alerts are typically substantially delayed. Sometimes victims have been tracked for days before they received an alert, which would give a stalker plenty of time to note their new address or frequented locations. Apple has said that it will release an update “to notify users earlier that an unknown AirTag or ‘Find My’ network accessory may be traveling with them,” but has not yet clarified if that ever happened.

For now, victims like the women suing expect they will remain in danger of being unknowingly tracked as long as AirTags are sold as currently marketed.

“The risks involved with a product like this being abused still seem like they far outweigh the convenience of finding a misplaced set of keys,” the complaint says.

Another downside to Apple AirTags:  they emit high levels of biologically harmful Bluetooth radiation that can cause symptoms and illnesses to those being exposed to them.  Got pets?  Exposure can affect them too.

Activist Post reports regularly about privacy invasive and unsafe technology.  For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:

Image: Pixabay

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