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Apple AirTags: Weighing The Benefits, Security Concerns Of The Tracking Device

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It's a tool that's supposed to help you track items you might lose, like your keys or wallet. But Apple's popular AirTags are also being used by criminals to stalk people.

Reports of instances have grown since the product was released in April of 2021. Earlier this year, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model shared her terrifying ordeal after she was stalked by a stranger.

Brooks Nader said she was at an upscale bar when someone slipped an Apple AirTag into her coat pocket, tracking her for hours.

"I had no idea that these existed until it happened to me," the model said on Instagram.

Apple AirTags
(credit: CBS)

At just $29, the coin-sized Apple AirTag promises an easy way to keep track of your things. Users can attached or place it near the item like a keychain and track it through the Find My app on the iPhone or Apple device.

Apple has added safety features that alert users if an unknown AirTag has been tracking their location. It then gives them the option to have the AirTag make a sound so they can find it, and then instructions on how to disable the device by removing its battery.

Mark Lanterman is the chief technology officer of Computer Forensic Service, and former member of the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Taskforce. He said time is critical if someone gets alerted they are being tracked.

"First, contact law enforcement, get them involved. Remove the battery. Don't just think that you now have a free AirTag. You're gonna want to destroy that or discard it," Lanterman said.

Extended Interview With Security Expert Mark Lanterman

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He said never to go to your home because it could reveal your location to a potential criminal.

"What concerns me about the AirTag is we don't really have a way to opt out," he said.

An Apple spokesperson gave this statement to WCCO:

"We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTag's privacy and security. AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking — a first in the industry — that both inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them, and deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes. If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag."

Since providing the above statement to WCCO, Apple has released an updated statement on the situation. Click here to read it.

Apple said its battery life is about a year.

St. Paul resident Tim Hoppenrath is among those who found benefits using an AirTag, especially last summer when his Moped was stolen.

"So I pulled my phone out, and I saw the thing moving in real time," Hoppenrath said.

Working with police, he says they found and recovered his moped.

"I never would have found it without having put an AirTag in there the night before," he said.

Lanterman said with any technology, it's important to weigh the risk versus reward.

"I think it's important for all of us to remember that whenever we gain a benefit from technology, we always give up a little bit of security, so it's a balancing act," he said.

WCCO checked with multiple law enforcement agencies in Minnesota and have yet to learn of a local stalking case.

In December, Apple released an Android app called Tracker Detect. It's designed to help those who don't own iPhones identify unknown AirTags.

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