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

are bluetooth

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

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 a few months, these objects have also been the subject of a diversion. These small “chips”, barely larger than a coin and having the appearance of a key ring, can be placed on a keyring, in a wallet, a car or even on the collar of an animal. domestic.

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

But this device quickly found another use: 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 of which a majority of victims are women.

In the United States, where the phenomenon seems to be on the increase, the police have recorded several cases of women having filed complaints for harassment linked to the use of these devices.

hunted women

In an article from April 8, 2022, Vice retrieved testimonies to this effect from eight police departments in major American cities, collected over the past eight months. Many of them mention the use of AirTag in cases of harassment.

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

Only half of them identified the person behind the spying. The other reports mention cases of theft of vehicles or personal effects on which an AirTag was placed.

Most of the victims indicate in the reports that the AirTags were placed in their car, mainly by ex-spouses.

A similar case in Amiens

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

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

According to the testimony shared on Twitter, the “tracker” used could not however be an AirTag, whose commercial name is specified on the alert if an unknown device is detected by an iPhone. On online sales platforms like Amazon, many references of competing and much less expensive accessories are indeed available.

According to article 226-1 of the penal code, the fact of undermining the intimacy of the private life of others “by means of any means whatsoever” is punishable by one year’s imprisonment and 45,000 euro fine. A reminder shared by the Ministry of the Interior, at the beginning of March.

Location via Bluetooth

To work, Tiles like AirTags need Bluetooth, as they cannot rely on a very expensive GPS chip that consumes far too much energy.

To provide location, systems of this type rely on the community of users: they detect the position of smartphones equipped with the Tile application for the first, or quite simply iPhones in the second case, to collect – anonymize – their location and then provide 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, which largely dominates 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 wide-ranging communications campaign has brought the technology to the attention of stalkers who wouldn’t know it. probably never thought of before”, denounces to Vice Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of Surveillance Technologies Oversight Project, which observes the excesses of surveillance technologies.

Apple’s Safeguards

Well aware of these potential difficulties, Apple quickly developed safeguards to prevent a person from being spied on with an AirTag. As mentioned above, an iPhone detecting the same Bluetooth accessory repeatedly nearby emits a notification to alert the user.

“The AirTags were not found by chance. It is also Apple’s spying prevention measures that work and that lead some of the people affected to report to the police” tempers Eva Galperin, in charge of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, with Vice.

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

The company has also published some instructions to follow when you receive this notification, such as the possibility of triggering a sound signal – the volume of which was increased in early May – in order to find the device.

Upcoming improvements

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

For its part, Tile also took measures at the end of March to combat harassment. In line with Apple’s actions, the company has launched “Scan and Secure” (“scan and secure”), an application to detect the presence of nearby devices.

However, unlike the Apple device, the Tiles do not have an alarm to locate them more easily.