I-TEAM: New tech being used to track people unknowingly

News4JAX I-TEAM investigates Apple’s newest device, the AirTag, and the safety surrounding it

A warning from law enforcement: check your bags and make sure you’re not being tracked.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A warning from law enforcement: check your bags and make sure you’re not being tracked.

At just $29, Apple’s AirTags are being used to unknowingly stalk people, police warn.

“This is open season for criminals,” said News4JAX crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson.

Using its latest technology, Apple says its AirTag is beneficial for anyone who is tired of losing their keys, wallet or even luggage while traveling.

And it’s easy to use. Attach an AirTag to an object, set up the device to your phone, and if you lose it, either set off an audible ping or track it using GPS.

But how easy is that item to track down? I enlisted the help of my News4JAX co-anchor and I-TEAM investigator Vic Micolucci to find out.

In less than a minute, the device was connected to Vic’s phone — easier than either of us had expected.

The rules of the day were simple: I would not tell Vic where I was going, and his job was to track me.

From San Marco to Arlington and back to Riverside, I stopped at multiple locations around town for about an hour and a half. That’s when Vic found me sitting down eating lunch. At that point, I had never received a notification a device was on me.

While I knew I was being tracked, others may not — at least not right away.

According to Apple’s website, “AirTag is designed to discourage unwanted tracking. If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send an alert.”

I did eventually receive an alert — three hours after Vic first started tracking me.

I showed the video to our News4JAX crime and safety expert.

“The problem is law enforcement doesn’t have a leg to stand on right now,” said Jefferson.

While there have been multiple reports across the country of these AI tags showing up in people’s personal items, attorney John Phillips says, “The use of tracking isn’t a crime yet.”

In Florida, the crime of unlawful installation of a tracking device or tracking application is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation and a $500 fine.

But Phillips says charging someone with this crime is difficult in Florida and even tougher in Georgia.

I asked Phillips if after watching the video could Vic potentially be charged with any crimes if I did not know what he was doing.

“In Georgia, I think he’d be OK. In Florida, he’d be right on the edge,” said Phillips.

Regardless, an Apple spokesperson told the News4JAX I-TEAM that if someone finds one of these devices unknowingly on them to contact law enforcement and disable the device.

You can do that by opening the back and taking out the battery — that breaks the connection between the AirTag and whoever is tracking it.

If you have an Android phone, Apple recently launched the Tracker Detect app in the Google Play store.

The app lets users scan for an AirTag on them, and if one is found, you will be able to play a sound to find it just like with an Apple phone.

If you don’t have a smartphone, Apple says, if an AirTag is separated for a significant period, a sound will play automatically within eight to 24 hours of the device being gone from its owner. At that point, if you find it, Apple says, take the battery out and call law enforcement.

And there are advocacy groups already speaking out about the potential danger from these. STOP, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, sent a letter to Apple, demanding it stops the sale of AirTags altogether, saying Apple’s safeguards are not working. But for now, there’s no sign from Apple that it will stop selling these anytime soon.

Will Owen with STOP, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, joins us on The Morning Show with more on the potential dangers of Apple AirTags.