On a Sunday evening in September, Ashley Estrada was at a pal’s residence in Los Angeles when she acquired an odd notification on her iPhone: “AirTag Detected Near You.”

An AirTag is a 1.26-inch disc with location-tracking capabilities that Apple began promoting earlier this 12 months as a manner “to keep track of your stuff.” Ms. Estrada, 24, didn’t personal one, nor did the buddies she was with. The notification on her cellphone stated the AirTag had first been noticed along with her 4 hours earlier. A map of the AirTag’s historical past confirmed the zigzag path Ms. Estrada had pushed throughout town whereas working errands.

“I felt so violated,” she stated. “I just felt like, who’s tracking me? What was their intent with me? It was scary.”

Ms. Estrada will not be alone in her expertise. In latest months, folks have posted on TikTok, Reddit and Twitter about discovering AirTags on their vehicles and of their belongings. There is rising concern that the gadgets could also be abetting a brand new type of stalking, which privateness teams predicted may occur when Apple launched the gadgets in April.

The New York Times spoke with seven girls who consider they have been tracked with AirTags, together with a 17-year-old whose mom surreptitiously positioned one on her automotive to keep apprised of her whereabouts.

Some authorities have begun to take a better have a look at the risk posed by AirTags. The West Seneca Police Department in New York not too long ago warned its community of the monitoring potential of the gadgets after an AirTag was discovered on a automotive bumper. Apple complied with a subpoena for details about the AirTag within the case, which can lead to expenses, West Seneca police stated.

And in Canada, a local police department stated that it had investigated 5 incidents of thieves inserting AirTags on “high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them.”

Researchers now consider AirTags, that are geared up with Bluetooth know-how, may very well be revealing a extra widespread downside of tech-enabled monitoring. They emit a digital sign that may be detected by gadgets working Apple’s cell working system. Those gadgets then report the place an AirTag has final been seen. Unlike comparable monitoring merchandise from rivals equivalent to Tile, Apple added options to stop abuse, together with notifications just like the one Ms. Estrada acquired and automated beeping. (Tile plans to launch a feature to stop the monitoring of individuals subsequent 12 months, a spokeswoman for that firm stated.)

But AirTags current a “uniquely harmful” risk as a result of the ubiquity of Apple’s merchandise permits for extra precise monitoring of individuals’s actions, stated Eva Galperin, a cybersecurity director on the Electronic Frontier Foundation who research so-called stalkerware.

“Apple automatically turned every iOS device into part of the network that AirTags use to report the location of an AirTag,” Ms. Galperin stated. “The network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”

Apple doesn’t disclose gross sales figures, however the tiny $29 AirTags have proved in style, promoting out persistently since their unveiling.

An Apple spokesman, Alex Kirschner, stated in an announcement that the corporate takes buyer security “very seriously” and is “committed to AirTag’s privacy and security.” He stated the small gadgets have options that inform customers if an unknown AirTag could be with them and that deter dangerous actors from utilizing an AirTag for nefarious functions.

“If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag,” Mr. Kirschner stated.

Police may ask Apple to present details about the proprietor of the AirTag, doubtlessly figuring out the wrongdoer. But a few of the individuals who spoke with The Times have been unable to discover the related AirTags they have been notified of and stated the police don’t at all times take stories of the notifications on their telephones critically.

After a Friday evening out along with her boyfriend this month, Erika Torres, a graduate music scholar in New Orleans, was notified by her iPhone that an “unknown accessory” had been detected close to her over a two-hour interval, transferring along with her from a bar to her residence.

She known as the police and she known as Apple, however she by no means discovered an AirTag. An Apple consultant advised her other devices may set off the alert, together with AirPods. When Ms. Torres posted a video about her expertise to YouTube, a dozen folks commented about it occurring to them. “The number of reports makes me think there must be some sort of glitch that is causing all these people to experience this,” Ms. Torres stated. “I hope they’re not all being stalked.”

Ms. Estrada, who obtained the notification whereas in Los Angeles, finally discovered the quarter-sized tracker lodged in an area behind the license plate of her 2020 Dodge Charger. She posted a video of her ordeal on TikTok, which went viral.

“Apple probably released this product with the intent to do good, but this shows that the technology can be used for good and bad purposes,” Ms. Estrada stated.

Ms. Estrada stated she was advised by a Los Angeles police dispatcher that her state of affairs was a nonemergency and that if she wished to file a report she’d have to deliver the system along with her to the station within the morning. She didn’t need to wait and disposed of it after taking a number of images.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles police advised The Times that the division had not heard of instances during which an AirTag had been used to observe an individual or a automobile. But Ms. Estrada stated that after she posted her TikTok video, an Apple worker, performing on their very own, contacted her. The worker was ready to join the AirTag to a lady whose handle was in Central Los Angeles.

Another lady was notified by her iPhone that she was being tracked by an “unknown accessory” after leaving her health club in November. When she obtained residence, she known as the police.

The lady, Michaela Clough of Corning, Calif., was advised {that a} report may solely be filed if somebody confirmed up at her residence and that Apple’s notifications weren’t sufficient proof that she was being stalked. She later obtained in contact with an Apple customer support consultant who was ready to disconnect the system from Ms. Clough’s iPhone. The system was by no means discovered.

“I was terrified and frustrated that there was nothing I could do about it,” Ms. Clough stated, noting that she hadn’t returned to her health club since. “For a good week there, I just stayed home.”

AirTags and different merchandise linked to Apple’s location-tracking community, known as “Find My,” set off alerts to unknown iPhones they journey with. The AirTag product web page on Apple’s web site notes that the gadgets are “designed to discourage unwanted tracking” and that they may play a sound after a sure period of time of not detecting the system to which they’re paired.

In June, after issues about stalking have been raised, Apple pushed an update to AirTags to trigger them to begin beeping inside a day of being away from their linked gadgets, down from three days. Still, “they don’t beep very loudly,” Ms. Galperin stated.

An individual who doesn’t personal an iPhone might need a more durable time detecting an undesirable AirTag. AirTags aren’t suitable with Android smartphones. Earlier this month, Apple launched an Android app that may scan for AirTags — however you will have to be vigilant sufficient to obtain it and proactively use it.

Apple declined to say if it was working with Google on know-how that might enable Android telephones to robotically detect its trackers.

People who stated they’ve been tracked have known as Apple’s safeguards inadequate. Ms. Estrada stated she was notified 4 hours after her cellphone first observed the rogue gadget. Others stated it took days earlier than they have been made conscious of an unknown AirTag. According to Apple, the timing of the alerts can range relying on the iPhone’s working system and location settings.

The gadgets’ inconsistencies have triggered confusion for individuals who weren’t essentially being tracked nefariously. Mary Ford, a 17-year-old highschool scholar from Cary, N.C., acquired a notification in late October that she was being tracked by an unknown AirTag after driving to an appointment. She panicked as she searched her automotive.

Ms. Ford solely realized it wasn’t a risk when her mom revealed she had put the tracker within the automobile about two weeks earlier to observe her daughter’s whereabouts.

“I was nervous about Mary being out and not being able to find her,” stated her mom, Wendy Ford. She stated she hadn’t meant to preserve the information of the AirTag from her daughter, “but if I knew she would have been notified, I probably would have told her.”

Jahna Maramba rented a automobile from the car-sharing service Turo final month in Los Angeles, then acquired a notification about an unknown AirTag close to her on a Saturday evening along with her girlfriends.

She took the automobile to her pal’s parking storage the place she searched the surface of the automotive for an hour earlier than its proprietor notified her that he had positioned the system contained in the automobile. Ms. Maramba had been driving the automotive for 2 days.

A spokesperson for Turo stated in an announcement that the corporate has no management over the know-how automotive homeowners use on the automobiles they hire out.

“Imagine finding out via a notification that you’re being tracked,” Ms. Maramba stated. “And you can’t do anything about it.”

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