Listings for AirTags with deactivated speakers have been spotted on eBay and Etsy. This removes one of the two anti-stalking features Apple built into the tracking devices.

One seller claimed that the modification was done for innocent purposes …

Background

Apple gave AirTags two privacy features, designed to prevent them from being used by stalkers, or by thieves who might want to track a vehicle or other property they plan to steal later. The first is an alert on iPhones (with an Android app later added).

To discourage unwanted tracking, Find My notifies you if an unknown AirTag or other Find My accessory is seen moving with you over time by sending you the message, “Item Detected Near You.” (This feature is available on iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 14.5 or iPadOS 14.5 or later).

If you see this message on your device, an AirTag or other Find My accessory that has been separated from the person who registered it is traveling with you, and the owner might be able to see its location. It’s possible that the AirTag might be attached to an item you are borrowing.

Second, a built-in speaker that pings if an AirTag remains separated from its paired iPhone.

After an AirTag has been away from its paired device for a certain amount of time, the item will automatically emit a sound notifying those around it of its presence.

However, some campaign groups say that the protections against stalking are inadequate, and there have been reports of the devices being misused in this way.

AirTags with deactivated speakers being sold

PCMag spotted listings for AirTags with deactivated speakers on both eBay and Etsy.

A merchant on Etsy tried to undermine this safeguard by selling modified AirTags that had their internal speakers removed. 

The product, dubbed “Silent AirTag,” was up for sale for $77.50 before the listingabruptly went offline minutes ago. According to the merchant, “JTEE3D,” the device looks nearly the same as a regular $29 AirTag. However, a small hole has been cut underneath the device’s battery to disconnect the speaker […]

There’s also a listing for a Silent AirTag on eBay.

Both sellers claim that the modification was made for innocent reasons, for example, allowing someone to hide an AirTag on their bicycle so that they can track it if stolen. However, TNW says that the Etsy seller subsequently removed the listing when the stalking risk was raised.

While I believe there to be many positive uses for this product, there are some negatives, that I’m now aware of, that can’t be outweighed by any positive. In light of this, I have removed my listing from Etsy. I’m not affiliated with any other listings of silent AirTags.

Etsy tells us that AirTags are a prohibited category on the store, but for some reason it appears this listing was not detected.

One US state is even considering AirTag-specific privacy legislation.

9to5Mac’s Take

We’ve previously made the point that, while risks do exist, AirTags have better privacy protection than any other tracker on the market. There are any number of GPS trackers without any anti-stalking safeguards at all. These don’t come under the same scrutiny because they aren’t made by Apple.

All the same, the Apple effect is real: When Apple adopts a technology, more people become aware of it, so it can be argued that with (market) power comes responsibility. We’ve proposed that the company mount a publicity campaign designed to draw attention to both the risks and the safeguards.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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