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.

AirTag in Envelope Feature 2
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.

Top Rated Comments

AngerDanger Avatar
40 months ago
It'd have been pretty cool if you could associate AirTags with your Apple ID upon purchase and track their shipping yourself.
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Duane Martin Avatar
40 months ago
Am I missing something here? The person wrote “my friend left the envelope on a table in his house” and the concern is the friend has not received a notification that an Airtag is moving along with him? Well it isn’t, is it? It is sitting on a table. So unless he is carrying that table around with him why would he receive a notification? Think about it for a second. There are soon to be thousands, if not tens of thousands of these devices out there. Your coworker has one in their bag in the cubicle next to you, should you get a notification? You have guests come to visit (when that can happen again) should you be getting notifications they have Airtags in their bags? No. So why would you get a notification that an Airtag is in an envelope sitting on a table?

I do not know how the “moving along with you” notification is set up but I would imagine that if you were to move out of some predefined range of the Airtag the tracking clock would reset as, well, if you can move out of range then it is not moving with you.

Is there potential for any tracking device to be used for nefarious reasons? Yes. Is Apple at least attempting to mitigate some of those possible exploitations? Yes. Could they do more? Quite possibly and they likely will. Meanwhile, hopefully ridiculous stories like this will go away as people start to grasp the concept, though my hopes are not high.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Doctor Q Avatar
40 months ago
How long will it be before someone uses this type of tracking as evidence in a lawsuit? "You claimed my item was in your shipping facility on Tuesday, but I have the evidence showing it was not there yet."
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
CCerta112 Avatar
40 months ago

What potential harm is there? If you have someone’s HOME ADDRESS there is not a lot of harm in sending a tracker to the house in the mail. It will simply show the airtag being at the address you gave.

You don’t get a letter or package and keep it your car. ??‍♂️??‍♂️ Once the package is opened, the gig is up.
I could imagine a circumstance where a youtuber (or other semi-private person) let's fans send letters and packages to a PO Box (not their home address, to keep it secret) and unknowingly gets sent an AirTag.

Rather easy to do and hide, and suddenly that person has a stalker who knows where they live.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
alexandr Avatar
40 months ago
this violates the privacy of postal workers! (just getting in the complaining line — pay no mind)
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Napkin Carbuncles Avatar
40 months ago

('https://www.macrumors.com/2021/05/12/airtag-tracked-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 ('https://www.intego.com/mac-security-blog/i-mailed-an-airtag-and-tracked-its-progress-heres-what-happened/'), 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.
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 to his friend in 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 them 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.
Lucikly in this case, there was no potential harm in the friends iPhone failing to alert them 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.

Article Link: AirTag Used to Successfully Track a Mailed Package Across the UK ('https://www.macrumors.com/2021/05/12/airtag-tracked-across-the-uk/')
Seems like if the AirTag was left on the table for 3 days, it's not actually tracking anyone. The anti-tracking may take into account that the package receiver's iPhone has moved out of range from the AirTag in question several times, is therefore not on that person's person, and did not warn them.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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