Apple Air Tags (and other tracking devices): What Parents & Educators Need to Know

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January 4, 2022

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Predators are finding ways to track the physical location of students using devices, like Apple AirTags, for human trafficking or other dangerous purposes.

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In this VIP resource parents & educators will learn

  • What experts say about the dangers of tracking devices
  • Step-by-step directions to manually search for AirTags on an Apple or Android device to protect your family
  • Tips for talking to students about "stranger danger" and their safety
  • How to help your student look for suspicious or unknown tracking devices

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

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Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.

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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

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This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Green Zone.
This app is not safe for students to use unsupervised, but a Green Zone app can serve a positive purpose to help a student to navigate social media and someday build an online brand. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Green Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Gray Zone.
Gray Zone apps often contain lots of private & disappearing messages, and strangers can use this to chat with students. Parents should participate in these apps with students to keep them safe. This zone can be a great place for family time since many of these apps can be entertaining, and let your students express themselves. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Gray Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Red Zone.
Red Zone apps often have lots of anonymous features, adult content, and easy contact with strangers. Supervision is strongly suggested on each of these apps or move your kids to a safer zone. All apps require parental supervision, these apps more than others. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Red Zone or view our list of 100+ Apps to find a safer app with your student.
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This trend is categorized as a Dangerous Social Media Challenge.
Viral challenges encourage students to do dangerous things to garner likes, views, attention, and subscribers. These challenges can be found across several social networks and may encourage students to perform dangerous activities. SmartSocial.com keeps parents updated on these social media challenges before an incident may occur in your community.

Table of Contents

Smartphones, Bluetooth, and GPS technology devices (like Apple AirTags) have been created with the intention of helping us in our day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, predators and bullies have learned ways to use the features of these devices to target unknowing suspects, like our teens and tweens.

Parents and students must stay aware of their surroundings and know what to look for to determine if they are being tracked. It’s also critical to understand what information students are sharing about their real-time locations through apps they use every day.

Parent & educator training video

What is digital tracking?

  • Predators are finding ways to track the physical location of students using devices, like the Apple AirTags and Tiles, for human trafficking or other dangerous purposes
  • Users’ own phone settings like Bluetooth, connecting to public wifi, hotspot sharing, AirDrop/Nearby Share settings can share information about the user, their location, and can leave them vulnerable to receiving unwanted files
  • Strangers can follow a user’s social media apps with location information like Snapchat to physically find other users
  • Users often do not know predators are following them with these hidden devices or continually shared information via the apps

Digital tracking in the news

The New York Times headline: Are Apple Air Tags Being Used to Track People and Steal Cars?
Privacy groups sounded alarms about the coin-sized location-tracking devices when they were introduced. Now people are concerned those fears are being realized. - The New York Times
WGRZ Buffalo NY headline: Apple's Air Tags Used to Follow 2 Women in West Seneca. Officers from West Seneca Police Department say it happened to a woman last month, and to a second woman just this week.
A female came in and she got this message notification on her phone that there was an Apple AirTag or device moving with her, so she came to the station…” [O]fficers found an AirTag under the bumper of the woman's vehicle. - WGRZ, Buffalo, NY


CBS News: Apple AirTags "terrifyingly good" at tracking stuff-and potentially helping stalkers
The problem is someone could slip one of these into your bag, or into your car or some other belonging of yours, without you knowing it.- CBS News
ABC 13 Eyewitness News: Crime Tip Tuesday: Apple's new product "AirTag" has some concerned
The problem is people who use the AirTag’s to slip into a woman’s purse at a bar or a child’s belongings. - ABC News 13, Houston, Texas
The United States Attorney's Office District of Oregon: Beaverton Man Charged with Child Explotation Crimes After Stalking and Exploiting Minor Using Social Media
This case demonstrates the extraordinary lengths sexual predators will go to victimize children. - United States Attorney's Office District of Oregon

Why should parents & educators care?

  • Bluetooth and GPS enabled devices are present in many types of smart devices and embedded in many apps on smartphones
  • Students may not understand why or how strangers track them with these devices or how their personal safety is at risk when they share or do not turn off, location information on social media apps
  • Stalkers or predators may track other users for days to learn their routines, such as when they are in vulnerable situations, like being alone at night 
  • Many of the tracking devices, like Tile or Apple AirTags, are inexpensive and have a long battery life, so they might not have immediate consequences, but could be found later 
  • Tracking devices can take just a second to drop into a student’s backpack or purse, or attach to their car in any public environment
  • The built-in sounds on the devices that are intended to serve as warnings are not very loud and someone may not hear the alarm if it is outside their vehicle or if they do not know to be looking for something suspicious
  • While iPhones will detect and alert users if an AirTag is near them, Android users must download the official Apple app “Tracker Detect” 
  • ~ Tracker Detect doesn’t work exactly like the Apple Find My network system as users must manually request the app to search

What can parents & educators do?

Apple AirTag example
  • Continue discussions about “stranger danger” even for tweens and teens, including not friending people on social media whom they don’t personally know in real life
  • If your family uses tracking apps to keep in communication with each other, frequently check the settings to ensure who can see each user’s location 
  • Consider whether your devices need settings like Bluetooth, wifi, or sharing a hotspot always on. Talk as a family about when it is appropriate to connect to public wifi, when it should be avoided, and when to accept Bluetooth connections (especially those from unknown devices)
  • With your students, look at the location settings in their apps, like Snapchat, that share active location information. Talk about who could use that information and the real dangers of strangers, or “friends” they only know online, finding them
  • Stay aware of technology updates (Tile says a Scan and Secure feature will be available in 2022 to allow anyone to scan for one of their tracking devices.

Tips for finding AirTags & what to do if you find a tracking device

  • Parents can help students conduct routine vehicle inspections for overall car safety (like tire pressure, oil levels, etc.) and include looking for anything suspicious like an Apple AirTag hidden behind a license plate
  • To manually search for AirTags on an Apple device: 
  • ~Open the Find My app 
  • ~Tap on Items at the bottom and swipe up to expand the screen
  • ~Tap Identify Found Item to search 
  • To manually search for AirTags on an Android device: 
  • ~Download the Tracker Detect app from Google Play
  • ~Open the app and press Scan (consider doing it every time you get gas to create a habit) 
  • If your student finds a tracker and does not recognize it, a parent or trusted adult should immediately remove the tag 
  • Consider reporting a found tracking device to local law enforcement before destroying or disposing of the tracker as data from the device may help law enforcement find who is tracking the device
Tracker Detect App Logo

What should students do if they think they are being tracked or followed

  • Talk with your students about how to be aware of their surroundings and what to do if they feel that they are being followed by another vehicle, including:
  • ~Keep calm
  • ~Go to where people are, such as a well lit public shopping area
  • ~Call the police and follow the directions of the 911 operator
  • Learn more tips of what to do if you think you’re being followed from our friends at safewise

More resources for parents, students, & educators

Snapchat App Guide: What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

Life360 App Guide for Parents (Track Your Kids)

Conclusion

Tracking your student’s location with their smartphones or using Bluetooth chips to keep tabs on keys or easily lost items might be beneficial for families, but these technologies can be used against your family in the wrong hands. Being aware of your surroundings and the dangers of location sharing settings are smart ways to keep students safe online and in person.


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Apple Air Tags (and other tracking devices): What Parents & Educators Need to Know

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