Apple released AirTags last year, giving iOS users a better way to track and find their belongings. However, the tracking capabilities of AirTags were so good that many expressed concerns about privacy and safety. AirTags have already been used to steal cars and follow people without their knowledge, and now you can find AirTags with disabled speakers for sale online. That would make it even easier to stalk someone with Apple’s hardware.
Tracking someone or something remotely is a challenge because you usually need to choose between accuracy and battery life. A GPS tracker can give you precise locations, but they need a lot of power. Passive trackers like Tile rely on Bluetooth and can last ages on a charge. However, they aren’t as accurate. The AirTag caught people’s attention because it uses ultra-wideband and Apple’s existing network of iPhones to nail down AirTag locations. And it does it pretty well.
Apple anticipated some of this, so it equipped the AirTag with a speaker. You can use it to locate objects, but it also beeps a few times per hour when it’s not connected directly to the paired phone. That makes it harder to hide an AirTag in someone’s belongings. You can’t disable this feature in the software, but you can always change the hardware, and that’s what several online sellers have started doing.
One Etsy seller appeared this past week selling de-noised AirTags for $78, a substantial markup from the $29 retail price. It looked and worked the same as other AirTags, except that a small hole had been cut in the housing to disable the speaker. The listing was removed, but similar devices are appearing regularly on eBay. And regardless of whether or not anyone is selling silenced AirTags, it’s trivially easy to mod them yourself—numerous online tutorials show how to remove the speaker.
There might be justifications for removing the speaker. For example, if you want to track something expensive without worrying a thief will find your beeping tag. However, you have to expect that the primary use case is tracking people without their consent. An iPhone will be able to alert users to AirTags in their vicinity, but anyone with an Android phone needs to suspect something is amiss and download the official Tracker Detect app. Sweeping for bugs might just be part of everyday life now.
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