Apple AirTags, a small circular device the size of a coin, appear harmless. AirTags are devices attached to keys, wallets and backpacks which are used to keep track of personal belongings. The device relies on Bluetooth signals which are detected by other nearby devices in the Find My network to pin-point its location. The location of the device is then displayed on a map in the Find My app, allowing people to be reunited with their lost items. However, AirTags can become a weapon for stalking.
Second year Ward Cammack got a notification saying “AirPod Pros detected near you” at the beginning of February as she walked home on Market Street. Though she thought little of the notification at the time, she immediately called Student Services upon getting the notification again the following morning. Student Services told her to go to the police, who said she had simply been “too drunk” and tried to connect to someone else’s Airpods. Ulti- mately, they simply gave her “safety advice” to watch her surroundings and look out for anyone suspicious.
Second year Anna, whose name has been altered to conceal her identity, also had a similar experience. When she saw the alert buried under her other notifications, she said her “heart dropped to my stomach.” She immediately searched her jacket and dumped the contents of her bag. She then called the police. Following the initial report, they gave her a second call and asked if she had any updates regarding the Airtag. She told them that there were none and they cancelled their next visit. According to Anna, “They told me to stay safe, and that was that.”
Fourth year, Colleen Jordan, also had a tagging experience after a night out with friends, “I get a notification on my phone that says an unknown accessory has been moving with you first seen at 10:53”
The notification took her to a map which tracked her move- ments for about three hours.
“All my flatmates we were all really scared and stressed out we were locking the doors and asking everyone who was at our party if anyone had an AirTag”
She never found the device which had been tracking her and said, “I was frantically searching everything that was on my person and my bag but I didn't find anything”
On asking the police for advice on preventing tagging she said, “They really didn't have any clear answer because I think it just started happening”
The incident has caused changes to the way Jordan behaves online. “I feel like I take better care of what I put online or with my phone specifically. I feel like my sense of personal safety with my phone and devices has gotten better
“I've definitely grown up and become more aware of my surroundings. First year I just used to walk home in the middle of the night, and I would never do that now”
Jordan hopes that students will develop an awareness on the issue of tagging.
“I think they should be aware that it's happening, female students are being targeted via these weird ways and I feel like the school has always promoted how safe this town is and I think we just have to remember that it is just like anywhere else and it is unsafe, you just have to be aware and cautious”
Neither Ward nor Anna have felt the same after the incident. Ward feels anxious whenever she leaves her flat and is often afraid to walk home at night. She even bought a rape alarm to carry around with her. Anna also expresses feeling anxious and “jumpy.” Anna did not return to her house until a few days had passed. After the incident, she could not be in a room alone and spent the next two weeks at friends’ houses, or at her own house with friends.
In response to incidents such as these, Apple announced on 10 February that it would update AirTag features to protect against unwanted tracking. Among these updates is new privacy warnings. In an upcoming software update, anyone setting up an AirTag for the first time will see a message which explains that using AirTags for any other use than to track their personal belongings is a crime.
Another feature which Apple has pledged to improve upon is updated support documentation. Apple is set to update guidance on what to do if you get an alert of an unwanted AirTag located near you.
While these updates are still in the works, it is important to understand what to do if you get air tagged. If an unknown AirTag is seen moving with you over an extended period of time, the following notification will appear on your phone: AirTag Found Moving With You. In your Find My app, you will find a map which displays your movements since the AirTag has been observed with you. To locate the AirTag, click on the alert, tap Continue and then tap Play Sound. Listen for a sound and continue playing until you locate the device. If you use an Android, download the Tracker Detect app. The app looks for items compati- ble with Apple’s Find My network, including AirTags, which are separated from their owners. If the app detects an AirTag nearby for longer than ten minutes, you can play a sound to help find it. Check coat pockets and seams as well as outer compartments of backpacks or purses. Once the Air Tag is located, find its serial number. One way to find the serial number is by holding the AirTag to your iPhone. A notification will appear, revealing the serial number on Apple’s site in Safari. You may also find it manually by pressing down on the cover and rotating it coun-terclockwise until it can no longer be rotated. Then, remove the cover and battery to find the serial number printed inside the AirTag. Removing the battery also disables the AirTag.
If you are unable to locate the Air Tag, it is safest to stay in a public place wherever possible and report the in- cident to the police. When going to the authorities, screenshot the alerts in case the system glitches and you lose the evidence. It is also important to remember details including when you first realised that you were being tracked, what places you recently visited, and the serial number of the device. With this information, law enforcement can work with Apple and provide infor- mation about the unknown AirTag. In order to keep yourself safe, it is important to familiarise yourself with phone settings, especially location services and Bluetooth. In the case that you are followed by an unknown AirTag, Find My will send an alert to your Apple device. In order to receive alerts, first ensure that your device is updated to iOS 14.5 or later. Then, go to Settings, click Privacy followed by Location Services, and turn Location Services and turn Location Services on. Then, go back to Location Services and click on System Services, turning Find My iPhone on. After, go back to Settings, and turn Bluetooth on. Finally, go to the Find My app, tapping the Me tab and turning on Item Safety Alerts. Following these steps ensures that you receive the initial alert when you are linked to an unknown AirTag. When you receive the alert, however, you should immediately turn off your location services, Bluetooth, and Find my iPhone. Take screenshots of the notification as well as the map and go to the police.
In order to ensure the safety of students in St Andrews, Ward and Anna said that there needs to be a shift in the way in which the University and the police respond to the issue. Both students criticised the silence of the University in the midst of this surge in air tagging.
Ward criticised the lack of support, stating that the University “needs to address it and warn all students- male and female- that this is a presence and a threat.”
Anna has similarly expressed an urge for University involvement saying, “I hope the University can train security, properly, and to not dismiss immediate and later reports, to keep an eye out for this as well.”
Both Ward and Anna urged students to be aware of their surroundings, even in a seemingly safe university town like St Andrews. Ward felt like her post on social media was largely ignored, as “it makes people uncomfortable to know that St Andrews isn’t as safe as we think it is,” and encouraged her peers to pay closer to each other’s posts regarding air tagging and safety.
Anna also cautioned against being too comfortable in St Andrews. She said, “It’s easy to fall into the mindset of ‘This is St Andrews,what can people do in this tiny little town of university students?’”
She wants students to pay full attention to their surroundings, adding, “I beg for you to keep safety in mind even here.”
Director of Wellbeing, Anna-Ruth Cockerham shared with The Saint, “I think it is important for students to be aware of the potential of tagging and take measures to protect themselves as best as possible, but hopefully if students are aware and taking those measures they should be reasonably safe from tagging.”
She suggested that along with following guidance issued by Apple that “any students are aware of anyone else using AirTags or other devices to track people unwanted, that they consider reporting that to the University or the Police.”
Image: Wikimedia Commons