AirTag Used to Successfully Track a Mailed Package Across the UK
An Apple customer in the United Kingdom has successfully used Apple's Find My network to track an AirTag as it was being sent by mail to a friend in a completely different city.
Outlined in a blog post at Intego, Kirk McElhearn said he taped an AirTag to a piece of card, wrapped it inside a small bubble envelope, and then sent it on its way. Kirk lives in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and he shipped his AirTag to a friend near London.
Using the Find My app on his iPhone, Kirk says he was able to keep track of his AirTag whereabouts, including its arrival at a shipping facility and a "highly automated mail processing centre." What's worth noting is that Apple uses its Find My network, which crowdsources anonymous data from iPhone and iPad devices, in the area to pinpoint the location of an AirTag.
It didn't take long for my AirTag to start its journey. At 5:49, it had started moving, going into Stratford-upon-Avon, presumably for it to be loaded on to a truck to go to the next location. At around 6:40, it had left the town, heading north.
At 7:30, it reached the South Midlands Mail Centre, a "highly automated mail processing centre," a massive warehouse-like site where mail is sorted. The presence of even one employee with an iPhone, with Find My turned on, was enough to register this location, but it's likely that many of the employees have iPhones.
Kirk built a custom script on his Mac which took a screenshot of the Find My app every two minutes as a way to log the movement of his AirTag. The video can be viewed in his blog post for those interested. A few days later, the AirTag successfully arrived at his friend's house near London.
Apple has a series of built-in parameters that are meant to prevent AirTags from being used for unwanted tracking. One of the leading ways Apple aims to prevent unwanted tracking is by alerting a user if an AirTag, unpaired with their iPhone or Apple ID, is found to have been following them for a certain period of time. The specific time period is unknown, but as Kirk finds out, it seems to be a rather long time.
Kirk says he expected his friend's iPhone to alert him that an unknown AirTag had been found on him, but even three days after his friend first received the AirTag, their iPhone failed to alert him to the presence of the unknown item tracker. His friend did however hear an audible alert from the AirTag, which is another method Apple uses to alert users to an unknown device. After the audible alert, it's unlikely that AirTags would send an alert to an iPhone.
After the AirTag was delivered, my friend left the envelope on a table in his house. He has an iPhone, so I expected him to be notified of the presence of the AirTag after a while.
I therefore expected my friend to get such a message on or after Monday afternoon, three days after I mailed it. By Tuesday, he had still not received any alerts. As I write this article, I just checked in the Find My app, and the AirTag was last seen 13 minutes ago, at his location, but he still has not received any alerts.
Lucikly in this case, there was no potential harm in the friend's iPhone failing to alert him to the unknown AirTag. However, in other instances, there could be a danger if the built-in measures for unwanted tracking fail to kick in.