A family on vacation in Orlando, Florida, was tracked last week without their permission.
Jennifer Gaston of Tennessee said she and her family were riding the monorail at Walt Disney World on their way out of the theme park when her daughter Madison received a notification on her iPhone, alerting her that someone had tracked everywhere she went from 7:09 p.m. to 11:33 p.m. on the day of their visit, according to WOFL-TV.
Thankfully, the attempt at tracking Madison after she left the park was unsuccessful.
“This story could have ended way differently,” said Jennifer Gaston. “I’m praising God we have the outcome we have, but it’s because she was diligent and aware of what to do.”
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When Madison first realized she was being tracked by someone using an Apple AirTag, her mother said they were “terrified, “confused,” “hurt,” and “scared,” adding her daughter “literally watched it follow us from the tram all the way back to our vehicle.”
The family exited the monorail and made a beeline for their vehicle, where they unsuccessfully looked for the AirTag, got into the car, locked the doors, left the parking lot, and informed the police of what they’d discovered.
Madison, for her part, kept checking her phone to see the status of the mysterious AirTag.
“As she was refreshing it,” Jennifer Gaston recalled, “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.”
The Apple AirTag first debuted April 2021 and quickly became a tool utilized by bad actors, who have used the tracking technology for everything from stealing items, such as vehicles, to clandestinely stalking people.
In a lengthy statement issued in February of this year, Apple addressed the criminal use of the AirTags. The tech company stated, in part:
We’ve become aware that individuals can receive unwanted tracking alerts for benign reasons, such as when borrowing someone’s keys with an AirTag attached, or when traveling in a car with a family member’s AirPods left inside. We also have seen reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes.
Apple has been working closely with various safety groups and law enforcement agencies. Through our own evaluations and these discussions, we have identified even more ways we can update AirTag safety warnings and help guard against further unwanted tracking.
Apple went on to state it is “actively working with law enforcement on all AirTag-related requests” it has received, adding, “Based on our knowledge and on discussions with law enforcement, incidents of AirTag misuse are rare; however, each instance is one too many.”
Nevertheless, at least one privacy advocacy group has called on Apple to discontinue the coin-sized product.
“When survivors and advocates warned Apple that AirTags were dangerous, the company refused to listen. They claimed that their technical fixes would prevent abuse,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told WOFL-TV. “Today, we see that they’re wrong and that AirTags are being abused in exactly the way we feared.”
Other groups, it should be noted, applauded Apple for its willingness to work with law enforcement and put safeguards in place surrounding the use of AirTags, according to TechCrunch.
Erica Olsen, director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said she is glad to see “Apple is engaging in the conversation about victim safety.”
“What these unwanted tracking alerts are showing us is that Apple’s system is working and, at the same time, raising awareness of this issue,” said Renee Williams, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “If anyone is experiencing technology-enabled abuse, stalking, or harassment, we can be a resource for them in addition to law enforcement.”
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