GVPD addresses Apple AirTag tracking concerns


GVL / Meghan Landgren

Emma Armijo, Staff Writer

With the development of the Apple AirTag, inconveniences like losing items or misplacing valuables can potentially be avoided. 

The AirTag is a tracking device developed by Apple to locate missing belongings using a similar design to the “Find my iPhone” feature included on their devices. The device connects via Bluetooth to any compatible smart device to report its location. 

Often used as a keychain, the tracker can be put on a key ring to keep track of lost keys, in a purse or handbag or attached to something that might be often misplaced. 

However, people are concerned this technology can be misused or taken advantage of, especially in congested areas with high foot traffic like a college campus. This concern is due to the marketing and wider production of these kinds of trackers and that it may be used to track or locate people without their knowledge.

The Grand Valley Police Department (GVPD) hopes to address the worries of technology like the AirTag and inform students of the best ways to practice cyber safety. 

GVPD Captain Jeffery Stoll said there doesn’t need to be an immediate assumption of malicious intent.

“It’s possible in this area that Bluetooth interactions between AirTags and other phones are going to happen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is tracking you,” Stoll said. “So if you have an AirTag that’s by you, your phone might try and pick it up.”

For an AirTag to start tracking something, it has to be enabled on the smart device first. The technology reaches out to compatible phones, trying confirm where the location data should be reported. 

In a highly dense area where many compatible devices are all together, there is a higher possibility that an AirTag will try to pair with the wrong smartphone by accident. 

In this event, a notification will appear on the screen that an unknown device is trying to connect via Bluetooth. 

Stoll said this can sometimes be concerning to students, especially if they don’t have an AirTag.

“It could be that your friend that’s next to you that has an AirTag and the phones are just interfacing in a highly densely populated area like Grand Valley,” Stoll said. “I think you’re going to understand where if people have a lot of AirTags, it’s possible that (because of the proximity) the phones may try and connect and there is no negative intent at all.”

With the popularity of the Apple AirTag and the number of devices on campus, GVPD is trying to help those concerned about the misuse of the technology determine what is threatening and what is not. 

Stoll said there was a report of an AirTag tracking concern, but that after reconnecting with the caller and looking deeper into the report, there actually was no cause for concern. 

Understanding the technology is as important as using it responsibly. 

“I want to be clear in saying we’re not seeing these rampant situations where people are tossing an AirTag into a car to track someone,” Stoll said. “We just aren’t seeing that right now. Just be aware of how this technology may impact you.”

The GVPD and campus community value safety, both in the cyber world and generally. The concerns of the Apple AirTag are valid, but not frequent occurrences at the university.

“I think everyone’s learning because this is a relatively newer item that Apple’s released,” Stoll said. “So some of it is just learning too.”