Photo of an Airtag and the Find My app on an iPhone screen. Tada Images - stock.adobe.com

By Karen Abarca & Brianna Contreras

In an age of Tech dominance, Apple’s  AirTags offer convenience but raise privacy concerns. As these compact trackers gained popularity, we surveyed perspectives on their potential misuse for tracking people, exploring their experiences and concerns. 

“I felt really scared, vulnerable, and unsafe on campus which I had never felt before. I felt very hyper-aware of everyone around me, so if people got close I moved away because I didn’t want it [to happen again]. I think most of the fear came from how quickly it happened, and how I didn’t notice it until it was too late,” a female CSUSB student. 

Recently during an interview with a female CSUSB student residing in University Village, she reflected on her experience—an unsettling discovery involving an unknown AirTag in her backpack.

She explained that when she initially received an AirTag notification, her familiarity with AirTags was limited, and she continued with her day. It wasn’t until she shared her story with a classmate that the gravity of the situation became apparent. “Then, I told one of the girls about it in my class, and she explained how serious and dangerous it could be. She even shared her own experience with an AirTag. Feeling more nervous, I emptied out my backpack, discovering the AirTag inside a small pocket.” Even now, as we revisit the details, questions about safety arise, underscoring the importance of examining such incidents with a careful approach.

‘Then, I took it to campus police. While I can’t recall the specific person at the front desk, they informed me about other cases involving AirTags on campus, often found underneath cars.’

Concerned about the prevalence of AirTags, I sought information from the University police. There, I met with Scott Aponte, the Corporal and Detective at CSUSB, who disclosed that the last call he remembered related to AirTags was either in the Spring semester or sometime in 2020. Unfortunately, this limited information prompted our decision to conduct a survey for a broader perspective.

“They just took it from me. I did not file any type of report, and I just wanted it off me at the time,” a female CSUSB student.  Curious about the University and the University Police’s communication about such incidents, I inquired further, if she’d ever received an announcement or an email about incidents like hers. She replied, “I’ve never received any emails, announcements, or warnings about this.”

Our survey showed that sixty percent of women know about the airtag incidents. Graphic by: Karen Abarca

To find more information on AirTags and tracking in our area, we utilized social media to disseminate a survey. Our Google form responses from thirty-one participants ranged locally to some as far away as Minnesota. Our primary objective for our survey was to investigate the awareness of people who knew about AirTags being hidden in bags or on cars, to understand how this may have impacted them emotionally, and whether some participants themselves had been affected. Out of those thirty-one participants, twenty-three of them were women. Women seem to be the main target as a few of them had been tagged or knew someone close to them who was tagged versus men who had only heard of incidents. Seventy-one percent of participants have heard of these incidents happening. This shows that this is not a small incident that occurred once or twice, this is an ongoing issue.

Graphic Caption: Each airtag represents the county of a user who has heard about the situation. Graphic edited by: Karen Abarca 

One of the users who took our survey was a coworker of mine. She stated that her sister was tagged after a date. They did not discover the tag until she returned home and got the notification. Once they received the notification they looked through her bag and inside her car to no avail. It wasn’t until they checked under the car did they found the tag, “Nothing happened, but it was scary knowing someone knew where me and my sisters lived.” This is the harsh reality for a lot of women. What could seem like an innocent first date for a young lady could be something completely different for a perpetrator. 

This harsh reality is not exclusive to women who have opinions on this type of tracking. Our survey revealed that many men expressed their fears for their sisters, girlfriends, and mothers. One user states, “I would hate if my sister or girlfriend had a tag cuz that would mean they are being targeted and there’s only so much that I can do”. Air tags are a tricky type of technology. Oftentimes you’d have to go to a police station to get the tag to stop tracking if you are not good with technology, but after that, there’s not much more that can be done. As far as research shows there is no way to find out who put the tag there or to track it back to its owner.  

In situations where you fear your safety is in jeopardy, such as discovering unknown Airtag devices, which can be very unsettling, here are some tips to consider: 

  1. Your safety comes first: If you feel threatened or unsafe move to an area that is well-populated or seek assistance. 
  1. Contact the authorities and University Police: If you find yourself experiencing a tracking incident, report it to the appropriate authorities immediately. 
  1. Document the incident: Take as many photos or videos to document this situation that can be helpful for the authorities.
  1. Seek help: If you experience any feelings of frustration or distress reach out to friends, family, or counseling resources available on campus. 

Resources: 

For additional support and assistance, please reach out to campus resources. Contact University Police for immediate assistance with concerns for safety, refer to this website: https://www.csusb.edu/police

For speaking with Counseling & Psychological Services for emotional support and guidance, refer to this website: https://www.csusb.edu/caps

For more information on disabling AirTag refer to this website on Apple support: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212227

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