are bluetooth “trackers” used to spy on women without their knowledge?

These connected objects, which allow you to never lose sight of your keys or wallet, are hijacked by people whose intentions are malicious.

Convenient to never lose your keys, the connected beacon is an increasingly popular gadget. Two brands dominate the market: Apple, with its AirTags marketed since 2021, and Tile, whose products have been available for nine years now.

But for some months, these objects have also been the subject of a diversion. These small “chips”, barely larger than a coin and look like a keychain, can be placed on a keychain, in a purse, a car or even on the collar of a pet.

Thanks to the Bluetooth connection, they make it possible to locate the objects on which they are hung using a signal sent to a map.

But this device quickly found another application: tracking individuals. By discreetly placing this beacon in someone’s belongings, it is possible to track their movements without their knowledge. A practice that has spread and a majority of the victims are women.

In the United States, where the phenomenon seems to be gaining momentum, police have registered several cases of women who have filed a complaint of harassment in connection with the use of these devices.

hunted women

In an article dated April 8, 2022, Vice collected testimonies about this from eight police departments in major U.S. cities, collected over the past eight months. Many of them mention the use of AirTag in case of harassment.

Of the 150 police reports citing the object, Vice says 50 are from women who called police because they received a message warning them that they were being tracked by a device.

Only half of them identified the person behind the espionage. The other reports mention cases of vehicle theft or personal effects on which an AirTag was located.

Most of the victims state in the reports that AirTags were placed in their car, mainly by former spouses.

A similar case in Amiens

In France, several young women warned in early 2022 about this phenomenon on social networks, especially on Twitter. Without quoting any particular brand, a young woman referred to this practice in the city of Amiens in a tweet that was quickly widely shared.

Amiens police registered a report on this subject in early April. Another woman claimed on Twitter to have been a victim of this device in early March.

However, according to the testimony shared on Twitter, the “tracker” used could not be an AirTag whose commercial name is indicated in the warning if an unknown device is detected by an iPhone. On online sales platforms like Amazon, many references to competing and much cheaper accessories are actually available.

According to section 226-1 of the Penal Code, the fact of undermining the intimacy of the privacy of others “in any way” is punishable by one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. A reminder shared by the Interior Ministry in early March.

Location via Bluetooth

To work, Tiles like AirTags need Bluetooth, as they can not rely on a very expensive GPS chip that uses too much energy.

To provide location, systems of this type depend on the user community: they record the position of smartphones equipped with the Tile application for the first, or simply iPhones in the second case, to collect – anonymize – their location and then make sure , that location to the user.

These tools can thus share their location in real time, but also the history of their movements. The massive fleet of Apple devices that largely dominate the smartphone market makes AirTags particularly accurate.

“Apple’s massive network of devices gives AirTags the unique power to stalk across the globe. And the company’s extensive communications campaign has brought the technology to the attention of stalker who would not know it. Probably never thought of before”, condemns to Vice Albert Fox Cahn, CEO Director of the Surveillance Technologies Oversight Project, which observes the abundance of surveillance technologies.

Apple Security Precautions

Knowing these potential difficulties, Apple quickly developed security measures to prevent a person from being spied on with an AirTag. As mentioned above, an iPhone that repeatedly detects the same Bluetooth accessory nearby sends out a message to alert the user.

“AirTags were not found by chance. It’s also Apple’s espionage measures that work and cause some of the affected people to report to the police,” tempered Eva Galperin, head of cyber security at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, with Vice.

Following criticism of the lack of support for Android devices, the company has also rolled out an app to detect unknown Bluetooth devices on Android.

The company has also published some instructions that you must follow when you receive this notification, such as the ability to trigger an audible signal – whose volume was increased in early May – to locate the device.

Upcoming improvements

Last February, the company announced that it wanted to improve its device, which, for example, makes it possible to locate a “suspicious” AirTag nearby with more precision.

Tile, for its part, also took measures in late March to combat harassment. In line with Apple’s actions, the company has launched “Scan and Secure”, an application to detect the presence of devices nearby.

But unlike the Apple device, Tiles does not have an alarm to find them easier.

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