Using consumer tracking devices like AirTags for surveillance
Kashmir Hill, a tech reporter for the New York Times, decided to track her husband (with his consent!) using a mix of consumer trackers
Yes, the internet of things — our things — is coming alive around us, digitally frisking us as we walk by to see if we’re carrying anything of interest.
These devices are an interesting inversion of what we think of as the usual surveillance economy built by the likes of Facebook and Google. It’s theoretically possible to opt out of using Facebook, for example, even if they almost certainly keep a shadow profile of your movements across the web and even out in the real world.
Trackers are meant to be opt-in — you have to buy one and attach it to your keychain — but Hill’s piece shows what happens when someone else opts you in. Theoretically, there are safeguards in place, with Apple building alerts into iOS and offering a much less effective solution on Android, but the entire category seems pretty ripe for abuse.
And where the Tile and AirTags seems to have legit purposes, the LandAirSea GPS tracker seems like it was built for surreptitious tracking.
As this story went to press, Apple posted this update on unwanted tracking that details how they are trying to keep AirTags from being used for spying. And as Rene Ritchie notes, AirTags are not a great way to avoid law enforcement since, in order to register an Airtag, someone needs to use an Apple ID and if they get caught using one maliciously, Apple will coordinate with the cops to find that person.
One final meta point about this piece: the clandestine photographer secretly following Hill’s husband tells a genuinely compelling story that’s appropriately creepy and voyueristic.