The Apple AirTag: What is It, and Why is It so Dangerous?

Ruheni Mathenge Last updated: May 15, 2023 Read time: 13 minutes Disclosure

Apple AirTags is a new technology that poses unknown security risks to unsuspecting victims. This article explains what these gadgets are, how they work, the risks they pose and how to deal with them.

Additional practicality in technology often leads to extra security and privacy problems. For instance, it’s great to do your banking operations from your phone, avoiding the bank or the ATM. However, if you lose the phone, your financial assets could be compromised. Apple AirTags pose similar problems.

The Apple AirTags joined the Apple tech ecosystem in April 2021. It was the family’s latest product. It’s a disc measuring one and a quarter inches that you can attach to your car keys, your wallet, or any other object whose location you want to track using other Apple devices. While on the surface, the AirTag looks like a practical and helpful little toy to have and never search for your missing car keys again, there are deeper security concerns about it. For example, a third party can use this gadget to track your movements.

Imagine you had something of a wild night. You wake up the following day; you’re at a friend’s place. That’s fine. You remember that. You get up, put on your jacket and get ready to leave. Then you feel something in your pocket. It’s not supposed to be there. You take it out, and you see an AirTag. It’s not yours. You’re not an Apple user. Your friend, an Apple fan, tells you that every AirTag he owns is accounted for. Since there is no other possible use for an AirTag than to track its location, you are suddenly not feeling very reassured. What should you do if something like this happens to you?

The first important thing to remember is: don’t panic. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about AirTags and how they work. Once you have that knowledge under your arm, you’ll understand the risks and how to deal with them.

What is an Apple AirTag?

AirTags are pocket-sized tracking devices that can interact with Apple devices. It’s about the size of a half-dollar coin. They’re light and easy to slip into almost anywhere without getting noticed. You can customize them with text or emojis, so they don’t get mixed up.

There are optional silicon and leather keyrings that can incorporate the AirTag, so you don’t have to dig around your purse or pockets to find it.

AirTags are Bluetooth devices that incorporate other types of ultra-wideband technology to broadcast location data associated with your Apple ID. The use case for these toys is to ensure that your keys, wallet, headphones, phone, purse, backpack, and similar objects or tablets never go missing again.

You can buy a single AirTag for 29 USD or four for 99 USD. The battery is good for more than 12 months, and you can replace it once it runs out. They are water resistant for about half an hour.

What makes AirTags tick?

The Apple iCloud includes the “Find My” network. AirTags send Bluetooth signals into that network, to which iPhones and other Apple devices are connected.

If you’re one of those owners of cool things that keep missing those cool things, you open the Find My app and locate your AirTag, or ask it to ping you. Then you can follow the app’s arrow or the tag’s sound until you find your piece of lost treasure attached to your AirTag.

In the newest iOS devices (iPhone 11 and later until the 13 with U1 chip), the AirTags can use ultra wideband tech. It allows locating the tag down to a centimeter of accuracy. So in plain English, your newer apple gadgets are very accurate at finding AirTags.

Older devices, the AirTags, need the Bluetooth of other nearby Apple devices. According to Apple, all these communications are encrypted so that no third party can read anything.

Android users can also take advantage of AirTag gadgets, but not by default –the default belongs to Apple users only. A handful of Android apps can interact with AirTags (AirGuard, Tracker DetectPro), which need installation before use.

Are Apple’s AirTags risky?

Here is what Apple has to say about these devices.

AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products.

Mind you, misuse is “condemned,” not “prevented.” So unfortunate as it may be, the AirTags can be a tool for misbehavior, depending on the user’s intent.

The original point in AirTags was far from bringing new dangers into Apple users’ lives. Instead, the interaction system includes an alarm and end-to-end encryption to enhance security. But many faithful Apple users are complaining about the Cupertino giant not doing enough to make AirTags genuinely safe. But you, as a user, need to take security in your hands — that’s one of the major reasons why even Apple TV users keep turning to VPNs.

Consumer concerns