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Apple's AirTag stalker safeguards are "woefully inadequate," alleges lawsuit

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Two women filed a proposed class-action lawsuit on Monday, December 5, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Apple, the makers of AirTags.

Airtags are a small Bluetooth-enabled devices designed to track personal belongings. The suit accuses the company of failure to introduce measures to combat abuse of the technology as stalkers have and continue to use AirTags to track people. Both claimed their ex-partners did just that.

Lauren Hughes, one of the plaintiffs, learned she was being tracked in August 2021 after ending a three-month relationship. According to The New York Times, Hughes's stalker sent her threatening voicemails and made abusive posts on social media. She moved to a hotel after receiving plants from her stalker at her doorstep.

At the hotel, she received an iPhone notification that an unknown AirTag had been traveling with her. Eventually, Hughes found it in the wheel well of her car tire, colored with a Sharpie marker and wrapped in a plastic bag to disguise it. Discovering the AirTag "terrified" her.

Hughes then found a new home, but months later, her stalker shared a picture of a taco truck in her new neighborhood, captioned with a winky emoji and the text "#airt2.0", the suit said. This, the suit alleges, showed the stalker's continued use of the AirTag to track Hughes.

"Ms. Hughes continues to fear for her safety—at minimum, her stalker has evidenced a commitment to continuing to use AirTags to track, harass, and threaten her, and continues to use AirTags to find her location," the suit said.

The second plaintiff, referred to as Jane Doe in the court papers, alleged that her ex-husband was stalking her when she found an AirTag planted in her child's backpack. She got rid of it, but it was replaced with another.

"In the wake of a contentious divorce, she found her former spouse harassing her, challenging her about where she went and when, particularly when she was with the couple's child," the suit said.

Apple introduced the AirTag in April 2021, with executives and publicists actively portraying the AirTag as a "harmless—indeed 'stalker-proof'"—product, the suit said. It's been a controversial product since its release and has raised concerns among privacy advocates and law enforcement that it could be misused to track people. And, true enough, AirTags have been used in stalking incidents, even murder, and theft of luxury cars.

In a blog post in February, Apple said it would add more safeguards to AirTags to curb unwanted tracking. Apple said it has been working with law enforcement to update the device's safety warnings, such as providing a privacy warning when using AirTags for the first time.

An Apple spokesperson also pointed to the February blog post about the company's stance on unwanted tracking:

"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. Unwanted tracking has long been a societal problem, and we took this concern seriously in the design of AirTag."
The suit, however, alleges that Apple's safeguards were "woefully inadequate, and do little, if anything, to promptly warn individuals if they are being tracked."

Hughes and Doe are seeking a jury trial with no monetary damages.


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