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A Columbia, Tennessee family claims they were stalked via an Apple AirTag while walking through Disney World theme park.
An Apple AirTag is a coin-shaped device designed to help users keep track of their belongings’ location. For instance, one might put an AirTag in their backpack, so that in case they misplace their backpack, they can look up its location on their phone.
But something entirely different happened to the family of Jennifer Gaston.
As the family was reportedly headed back to their vehicle after a day of walking through the theme park, Gaston’s 17-year-old daughter, Madison, received a notification on her phone — presumably an iPhone — that there was an Apple AirTag moving with her.
The problem is the family doesn’t own AirTags.
“I had no idea, no idea what an Air Tag was. Like, I was clueless. It stated that it was first detected with her at 7:09 pm and we got the notification at about 11:33 pm,” Gaston told station WKRN.
But thankfully, Madison had at least heard about AirTag stalkings before, so she knew to take the notification seriously.
“I had seen videos of other people warning people about them and what they were basically. So that’s how I knew what they were and I did not ignore the notification,” she explained to the station.
When she clicked the notification, she was shown “a map outlining all the places they had walked over the last four hours,” according to WKRN.
“It showed the first destination where it was detected with her, then it basically draws a line and makes the connections of the points where she had been,” Gaston said.
“We were terrified, we were confused, hurt, and scared. She literally watched it follow us from the tram all the way back to our vehicle,” Gaston said in separate remarks to Orlando station WOFL, referring to her daughter.
In response, the family “shook out all of their bags and clothing in the Disney World parking lot, jumped into their truck, and drove back to their hotel without locating the air tag,” according to WKRN.
“As a parent, I just was so frantic in the moment,” Jennifer said. “Just to think that somebody had those intentions. Looking at your daughters and just having those intentions, it was just terrifying,” Gaston told WKRN.
When Madison checked her phone, “it showed the AirTag was still in our parking spot, so somehow when we were frantically shaking out clothes and dumping everything out of our bags it fell out,” Gaston said to WOFL.
The family then called the police, but because they no longer had the AirTag on them, the authorities were unable to do anything.
Gaston strongly suspects that someone purposefully put the AirTag on them to track their movement. The reason why remains unclear.
WKRN notes that the “Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says they’ve assisted local departments here in the Volunteer State with similar investigations.”
David Benson, a security expert, told WOFL meanwhile that these cases usually involve “ill will.”
“Some people who have ill will towards others are using it to potentially stalk people, follow people, tag vehicles, high luxury vehicles, that they might want to come back and steal. Even if it’s not at epidemic proportions, it’s happening enough where it’s concerning,” he said.
This has also happened to celebrities.
“It was the scariest, scariest moment ever, and I just want everyone to be aware that this exists,” Sports Illustrated model Brooks Nader said four months ago in an Instagram video about receiving a similar iPhone alert.
View this post on Instagram
Apple is aware of the issue and has issued instructions to help those concerned about being tracked.
Testing and reading about AirTags to update one of my books, and I discover Apple really did think about the use of them by stalkers, private detectives, domestic assailants, and others. https://t.co/QAQwCnS1l1 pic.twitter.com/vmTp4t2Lrg
— Glenn Fleishman (@GlennF) May 1, 2021
However, Apple faces criticism from experts who say that they and other companies need to work together to resolve this problem.
One group of experts who spoke with CNET said these tech companies are going to have to share information, perhaps even propriety information, among themselves if they are ever going to truly resolve this problem.
“It’s incumbent on tech companies to come together and find better ways to prevent Bluetooth trackers from compromising personal privacy. That includes not just Apple, but also Samsung, Tile and other companies making similar products with fewer safeguards,” CNET reported in February, citing the experts’ assessment.
“They could start by providing information to each other and to the public about how Bluetooth trackers are being exploited. Sharing findings on how their respective products are being used maliciously is critical for creating privacy protections that work equally well across all smartphones. It would ensure that all companies are operating on the same data when developing tools for preventing or mitigating abuse.”
Gaston for her part is just glad her family is alive and well.
“This story could have ended way differently. I’m praising God we have the outcome we have, but it’s because she [Madison] was diligent and aware of what to do,” she told WOFL.
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