After years of rumors, AirTags were officially released earlier this year with a robust set of Find My features as well as safety precautions. Over the last week, however, a story out of Canada has gained traction after police warned that thieves are using AirTags to “locate and steal” luxury cars.
The York Regional Police department issued a statement last week detailing the situation. According to the department, officers have investigated five incidents involving AirTags being used to steal luxury cars. The AirTags are reportedly placed in “out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places.”
The thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s residence, where they are stolen from the driveway. From there, this is how the situation unfolds:
Thieves typically use tools like screwdrivers to enter the vehicles through the driver or passenger door, while ensuring not to set off alarms. Once inside, an electronic device, typically used by mechanics to reprogram the factory setting, is connected to the onboard diagnostics port below the dashboard and programs the vehicle to accept a key the thieves have brought with them. Once the new key is programmed, the vehicle will start and the thieves drive it away.
Police are advising car owners to “inspect your vehicle regularly and call police if you notice any suspicious potential tracking devices.”
Here’s some important context: the York Regional Police department says that over 2,000 vehicles have been stolen across the region. AirTags, meanwhile, have been traced back to five of these thefts – an incredibly small percentage.
Additionally, while AirTags are being blamed for these thefts, GPS trackers have long been used by car thieves to track potential targets. In many cases, those trackers are even cheaper than AirTags – but they of course aren’t made by Apple.
Apple has rolled out an array of privacy features for AirTags in an effort to make them as safe as possible. In June, the company updated AirTags to adjust the period of time it takes for AirTags to play a sound alert after being separated from their owner. An AirTag will now play a sound after it has been separated from its owner at a random time within an interval of eight hours and 24 hours.
In the context of car thefts, this means that the thieves need to act pretty quickly between placing the AirTag in on the target car and actually completing the theft.
Apple has also confirmed that it is working on an Android app that will detect AirTags and other Find My-enabled accessories. Apple says the app will be released sometime this year, but we don’t have an official release date just yet. On iOS, you can scan for AirTags and other Find My-enabled devices around you by using the Find My app.
Finally, one of Apple’s biggest competitors in this industry is Tile, which was just acquired by the location-sharing platform Life360. Shortly after the Tile acquisition was announced, a report revealed that Life360 will sell the location data of its 33 million users to “virtually anyone who wants to buy it.”
Ultimately, there’s no question that AirTags and GPS trackers in general can pose safety and security risks – but Apple is already doing quite a bit to make the experience as safe as possible for users. There are still issues that need to be resolved, such as improved reliability in the Find My app, but sensationalist stories about AirTags being used for car thefts don’t help the situation.
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