Women sue Apple claiming AirTags helped their stalkers
Pair say they were harassed and followed using trackers described in the media as 'stalker-proof'
Apple is being sued on behalf of two women who allege that the company's AirTag tracking devices violated their privacy by allowing them to be stalked.
The complaint [PDF], filed in Northern California District Court in San Francisco on Monday, claims that Apple misrepresented the dangers of AirTags by calling them "stalker-proof."
The court filing observes that soon after the release of AirTags in April 2021, concerns surfaced about how the coin-sized tracking devices could be abused for harassment. Apple, it's claimed, tried to downplay those worries by dispatching executives to promote the technology.
"Apple went so far as to represent, in multiple media outlets, that AirTags are 'Stalker-Proof'," the complaint says, pointing to a Fast Company April 22, 2021 article based on interviews with Apple executives, and articles referencing those interviews in The Telegraph and 9to5Mac.
"These representations, and others, were part of an intentional, coordinated press campaign on the part of Apple, in which its executives and its publicists actively sought to portray the AirTag as a harmless – indeed 'stalker-proof' – product. Thus, not only did Apple fail to adequately disclose the risks associated with the AirTag, it affirmatively misled the public and the press as to those risks."
As far as The Register has been able to determine, the phrase "stalker-proof" has not been attributed directly to any Apple executive in any of the cited articles. The phrase appears without quotes in the Fast Company article subhead, indicating that it's an editorial construct, and within quotes by the articles citing the original interview, presumably to credit the phrase to the source interview.
Apple's executives certainly defended their technology and talked up anti-stalking features. But no one from the company is cited in the complaint or in the referenced reporting as having uttered that actual phrase on the record.
The Register asked Apple for comment but the company's public relations team is persistently non-responsive. An attorney for the plaintiffs also did not respond to a request for comment.
But when it comes to stalking itself
The complaint is more successful in making the case that AirTags have been used for stalking – an issue Apple attempted to address with technical changes introduced in February 2022.
It cites the January murder of a woman in Akron, Ohio, who allegedly had been tracked via AirTag by an ex-boyfriend. The legal filing also points to an incident in Indianapolis, Indiana, in which a woman allegedly hid an AirTag in her boyfriend's car and used the device to find him and run over him with her vehicle.
The lawsuit also invites the Federal Trade Commission to pay attention to Apple's technology by noting that the consumer protection agency filed suit against the data broker Kochava Inc., but has not taken similar action against Apple for enabling a similar privacy invasion.
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Of the two plaintiffs in the case, one is named: Lauren Hughes, of Travis County, Texas. The other, listed as Jane Doe, is said to reside in Kings County, New York.
The complaint describes how Hughes was stalked by a former boyfriend, who last year allegedly placed an AirTag, sealed in a plastic bag, in the wheel well of her car's left rear tire. After moving, Hughes allegedly was taunted on social media with a picture of a food truck in her new neighborhood that included a hashtag suggesting another AirTag had been used to find her.
It also outlines the unidentified plaintiff's account of being stalked and harassed via an AirTag.
"In the wake of a contentious divorce, she found her former spouse harassing her, challenging her about where she went and when, particularly when she was with the couple’s child," the complaint says. "Ms. Doe was unable to figure out how her former spouse could follow her movements so closely, until one day she found an AirTag in her child’s backpack."
As of April 2022, at least 150 police reports have been filed claiming stalking involving an AirTag, the complaint says, arguing that the actual number of such incidents is likely much higher.
The lawsuit seeks recognition as a class action representing everyone in the US tracked without consent by an AirTag. It alleges violations of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and California’s Constitutional Right to Privacy, and business laws in California and New York. It also accused Apple of acts of negligence, negligence per se, intrusion-upon-seclusion, and product liability. ®