June 7, 2023

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This New Gadget Could Help Sniff Out Unwelcome AirTags

  • Tracking devices made by Apple and other companies are being used to stalk users. 
  • A new gadget claims to be able to detect Bluetooth trackers quickly. 
  • Android users can download software to find out if they are being tracked.

ognev / Unsplash



AirTag stalking is a growing problem, but high-tech gadgets might be able to help.


A company that makes wireless scanning devices for law enforcement has announced a version for consumers called Bluesleuth-Lite, which can find AirTags and other tracking devices. Apple’s gadgets have anti-stalking features, but it can take hours before it goes off, and Bluesleuth-Lite supposedly can find the tags nearly instantly. 


“While Apple’s AirTags have been proven to be an asset when searching for lost objects, bad guys have also used them to track ex-wives, boyfriends, police cruisers, and more,” Chris Hauk, a consumer privacy expert at Pixel Privacy told Lifewire in an email interview. “At least one of these tracking instances resulted in a murder.”



Stop AirTag Stalking

The maker of the Bluesleuth-Lite is seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter and has raised more than $38,000. The company claims that the pocket-sized device can quickly find any Bluetooth tracker. 


AirTag stalking uses Bluetooth sensors on a vast network of devices to ping against, and track location, which allows for tracking people without their consent nearly in real-time, Kevin Roundy, the senior technical director at cybersecurity company Norton Labs said in an email to Lifewire. 



“The small size of the device means it could be put into small spaces—think wheel wells of cars, slipped into jacket pockets, or put into bags—without the target realizing,” he added. 


Tracking devices are frequently used to track people’s locations without consent, Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech, said via email. He noted that AirTag stalking could theoretically happen to anyone, but it’s particularly prevalent in domestic environments. “A husband might stick an AirTag into his wife’s purse without her knowledge, for example,” he said. 


Several cases of AirTag stalking have made the news. In New York City, A Sports Illustrated model was stalked with an AirTag. Brooks Nader said she was tracked for five hours when someone put an Apple AirTag into her coat pocket.


“It was the scariest, scariest moment ever,” Nader said in an Instagram post. “And I just want everyone to be aware of that…”


A 43-year-old Ohio woman was allegedly shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend, who was tracking her via an AirTag. In response, the Ohio state legislature has considered a bill to outlaw electronic stalking.


If someone is stalking you, please reach out for help from local law enforcement and organizations and resources such as the NNEDV Technology Safety and Privacy toolkit and the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).


Finding Electronic Stalking Devices

There are several ways to prevent AirTag stalking, although none are foolproof. Android users can use a third-party app to detect AirTags, such as Tracker Detect or AirGuard. AirTags will also make a sound if they are separated from their owners for too long.


Apple recently reduced the time it takes to alert users about unknown AirTags from 24 hours to just 15 minutes, Bischoff noted. You’ll need to be on iOS 14.5 or later. However, this safeguard doesn’t apply to non-iOS devices, and most Android users won’t bother downloading a third-party detection app. 


“I think Android ought to have a built-in detection feature like iOS that alerts users if they’re being followed by a tracking device,” he added. 


Another problem is that it’s possible to buy an AirTag with the speaker disabled. That means you would not be warned if the device is being used to stalk you. 


If you think you might be at risk of being stalked, Roundy said you should keep a close eye on your phone for popups and alerts. “If someone is stalking you, please reach out for help from local law enforcement and organizations and resources such as the NNEDV Technology Safety and Privacy toolkit and the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233),” he added.


Bongkarn Thanyakij / EyeEm / Getty



But some observers say that more needs to be done to prevent AirTag stalking. Cathy Habas, an author at SafeWise, said users should be able to receive “AirTag near you” alerts automatically. 


“Unless they suspect they’re being stalked, very few people think to use the ‘Items Detected Near You’ feature,” Habas added. “The downside, of course, is that you might end up getting quite a few notifications. Maybe the notifications could only appear if an unknown AirTag seems to be moving with you—like if it’s been slipped into your purse, behind your license plate, or is even being carried by the stalker.”