By Grace Rupp
Personal trackers have gone mainstream on the market as they are highly accessible, low in cost, and increasingly pervasive. While personal trackers offer an easy solution to locating personal items, they present a significant safety risk for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. Companies like Amazon and Apple are flooding the market with small, inexpensive, and highly effective personal tracking devices, with a starting cost around $30. In theory these trackers offer a convenient way to manage lost items, but when used inappropriately and abusively, they offer a cheap form of stalkerware.
Two examples of products that pose a serious stalking and nonconsensual tracking risk are the Apple Airtage and Amazon Tile. Airtags are a powerful tool for tracking, enabling individuals to track both people and items in long and short range. They used other Apple phones and Bluetooth or remote technology to create their tracking network. This is particularly worrisome as existing bluetooth networks can be used to track items or people in almost any location in the world.
While these trackers do have anti-stalking features, these features vary in effectiveness depending on brand and user preferences. For example, for iPhone users an alert will sound if the phone owner is being tracked with an unknown airtag. Android users will not receive any sound notifications or pop up alerts. Unfortunately, these sound notifications, regardless of brand, are relatively quiet and short in duration. This presents a particular challenge for the Deaf and hard of hearing community as they will be unable to hear notifications. The good news is that each tracker is attached to either an Apple ID or an application, so the owner of the tracker can be identified (Dodge, n.d).
In the upcoming Maryland legislative session, a bill to improve Maryland’s stalking law will include the addition of tracking someone without consent, for example with stalkerware on a phone or other electronic communications. Changing the existing stalking law will also permit peace and protective orders to be issued based on non consensual tracking and other stalking on electronic platforms. The lead sponsors of the changes to this statue are Vice Chair Vanessa Atterbeary and Vice Chair Jeff Waldstreicher.
These devices were not made with survivor safety in mind, but there are some ways to increase protection against non-consensual tracking. Some strategies to detect tracking devices may include conducting a physical search of your belongings for trackers, using the ‘FindMy’ applications on iPhones to locate unknown trackers, changing and managing location services on your personal devices, and looking out for unknown noises and alerts that may come from tracking devices. If you find an unknown tracking device, reach out for help. Rape Crisis Centers across Maryland and the Sexual Assault Legal Institute can help you manage safety planning, emotional support, and legal resources for nonconsensual tracking.
Check out these additional resources to learn more:
Dodge, Adam. (n.d). Nonconsensual Tracking & Personal Trackers - A Victim Resource Guide. End Tech Abuse. Retrieved from: https://import.cdn.thinkific.com/211024/courses/1426145/NonconsensualTrackingSafetyGuide10-210628-151948.pdf