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Lifewire - Tile’s Odd New Anti-Theft Mode May Make Stalking Even Easier: Feb 21, 2023

Anti-theft or anti-stalking: pick one


By Charlie Sorrel

February 21, 2023


Original article link: https://www.lifewire.com/tiles-odd-new-anti-theft-mode-may-make-stalking-even-easier-7111890


Key Takeaways

  • Tile’s anti-theft mode disables stalker-tracking features.

  • Apple’s AirTags are terrible theft trackers by design.

  • Tile requires an ID before it lets you switch on this new feature.


Tile


Tile's new anti-theft mode shows how hard anti-stalking trackers can be.


Tile has added an undetectable anti-theft mode to its tracking tiles. This defeats Tile's own anti-stalking Scan and Secure feature, so anyone carrying one of the little plastic tags will be trackable, will not be warned about it, and cannot scan for the device. As we shall see, it's almost impossible to have a tracker that is both anti-stalker and anti-theft.


"It seems to me that for any technology to function as an effective anti-theft device, it would need to be physically small and unable to be detected by any scanning devices that the thief may possess," cybersecurity writer Aaron Drapkin told Lifewire via email. "I don't see how you could make a product with these specifications that could also not be used for insidious activities like stalking. This is why Tile hasn't been able to create one. In an attempt to make it 'safe,' they've just added an identity verification process and financial deterrent. There's no technical aspect of the device that can stop it from being used for stalking."


Stealing vs Stalking

According to the press release, Tile is going in hard on the theft-tracking angle. This makes sense because its arch-rival, Apple's AirTag, is not a theft-tracker at all. In fact, it's pretty terrible at that, thanks to AirTags' stringent anti-stalking features.


But first, let's see how hard it is to put both anti-stalking and anti-theft features into the same device.

Tile


Apple's AirTags are designed to help you find lost items—keys, bags, wallets, etc. Every AirTag is tracked—anonymously—via the hundreds of millions of iOS devices around the world. Your AirTag constantly emits little Bluetooth blips that can be picked up by a passing iPhone or iPad. The passing iPhone takes this blip, adds location data, and sends the entire encrypted package to Apple. When you lose an item, your Find My app then decrypts all that data to find the lost tag.


To prevent people from using AirTags for stalking people, they will also emit the occasional bleep when away from the owner. Also, your own iPhone will detect any unknown tags found moving with your (in a car, or in your bag, for example) and warn you. This is what makes the AirTag hopeless as an anti-theft device—it warns the thief that it's there.


So, to make an anti-theft tracker, you have to disable all anti-stalking features. Which makes such a device an excellent stalking tool. Tile's press release says that AirTags' anti-stalking measures "have been criticized for being insufficient for victim protection." The answer to this, apparently, is to reduce those protections still further. Tile's anti-theft mode will, says Tile, render a tracker invisible on Tile's Scan and Secure app, which is designed to detect any Tile trackers that have been hidden near you.


That’s OK Then

To mitigate the possible dangers of an undetectable tracker, Tile will only let you enable anti-theft mode if you provide it with a government-issued ID, and will fine you $1 million if you are "convicted in a court of law for using Tile devices to illegally track any individual without their knowledge or consent."


Having a verified ID associated with a Tile tracker means that if somebody does find a Tile hidden about their person, then law enforcement will presumably be able to find the owner. However, if I was using a Tile to track my valuables, then I might not be happy with the possibility that Tile might be able to supply my details to the police.



Tile


And given that a nefarious user will only get caught if their victim discovers the device and tells the cops, the disincentives to do so aren't that compelling.


"Even though Tile might suggest they'll assist in prosecuting stalkers, there is a tremendous amount of harm and damage that can be inflicted upon a victim before a stalker is proven in the justice system to have committed a crime," privacy advocate Daniel Farber Huang told Lifewire via email.


"What's more, if the target never specifically discovers the existence of an anti-theft, covert Tile device tracking them, they may still be the victim of a crime due, in part, to an anti-theft Tile leaving a stalker to the victim, but Tile and its device would never be implicated as empowering the stalker."


As you can see, it's a mess. Tile seems to be doing its best to stop an anti-theft device being used for stalking, but as we have seen, it's a tricky problem to solve, if not an impossible one. We will have to see if Tile's gamble pays off.

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