The Madison Police Department and University of Wisconsin Police Department are responding to reports of women being harassed by a man in the State-Langdon neighborhood.
Multiple women have reported that a man has attempted to place an AirTag on them, but the UWPD has not been able to verify the reports, Director of Communications for UWPD Marc Lovicott said in an email.
“We believe only one person is involved — and at this point, we have not located any AirTags on victims,” Lovicott said. “We also understand there’s some inaccurate information on social media (Reddit) that’s fueling concerns and the rumor mill.”
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This year, Apple released safety features designed to prevent people from using AirTags for stalking. iPhones now alert their owners if they detect an unknown AirTag that has been separated from its owner for a prolonged period of time. Android owners can download the Tracker Detect app for this purpose as well.
Though some states have confirmed cases of people using AirTags for stalking, no cases have been confirmed in Madison, UWPD said in a Dec. 15 press release. Because Madison is a dense campus, it’s possible that AirTag alerts people were receiving were actually triggered by nearby people using AirTags for personal reasons, according to the press release.
Now that software engineers are creating safety measures to prevent stalking with AirTags, it won’t be long before they solve the problem, UW Computer Science Professor Barton Miller said.
“This isn’t some clever adversary stalking people,” Miller said. “This is really low, low tech and now that the technologists are trying to fix it, there’s a good chance they’ll close the loopholes here.”
Beyond AirTags, there are various other devices with the same goal of tracking items, such as Tile and Samsung Galaxy SmartTag that do not automatically alert an individual if a tracker gets placed on their person, UW Computer Sciences assistant professor Rahul Chatterjee said.
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Chatterjee and his colleagues are investigating the efficacy of third-party apps that claim to be able to detect trackers like these. To be able to ensure that the technology is beneficial, they are understanding the rate of true positives vs false positives, Chatterjee said.
Chatterjee encouraged students who feel uncomfortable with the idea of being tracked to ensure that they check their settings frequently for what apps have access to their location. Beyond portable tracking devices, Chatterjee encouraged students to be aware of who their information is being shared with and who they allow access to their phones.
But Chatterjee urged students to not panic every time they are alerted of an AirTag or another tracking device around them because false positives are possible.
If you suspect that you are being tracked with an AirTag or stalked, call 911 or call UWPD.