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Although negative stories about how Apple’s AirTags can be abused for nefarious purposes seem to get most of the news attention, it’s important to remember that Apple has designed the AirTag to help people find and recover their lost items. When used correctly, they’re surely helping many more people than they’re harming.
Such was the case with an Australian photographer, whose inexpensive AirTag helped him get back AUD 10,000 (~$7,000) worth of stolen camera and computer gear.
As reported by 9News, Graham Tait of Sydney, Australia, discovered the thousands of dollars in equipment stolen from his car trunk while parked at a hotel in South Australia.
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Fortunately, Tait had the foresight to attach AirTags to both his laptop and his camera, and the tags went to work right away, letting him figure out exactly where the thief had absconded with his stuff.
My car was broken into whilst we were travelling in the Flinders Ranges last night and they took a laptop bag and camera – both of which had AirTags fitted.Graham Tait
Tait opened the Find My app on his iPhone, which showed him that the laptop and camera were still somewhere in the hotel.
Since AirTags don’t typically report a precise enough location to identify an individual hotel room — especially when multiple floors are involved — Tait presumably used the Precision Finding feature to narrow the location of his AirTags.
I used the Find My app and tracked the missing items down to a room in the hotel we are staying in.Graham Tait
Once the photographer determined the location of his AirTags, rather than trying to take matters into his own hands, he called the police to deal with the thieves.
Law enforcement officials were able to recover all of Tait’s belongings, including his wallet, camera, laptop, GoPro, and more.
This is an excellent story of how AirTags can help improve people’s lives, but it also demonstrates some important things to keep in mind.
Firstly, Tait was fortunate that the thief wasn’t particularly clued in. They obviously didn’t know what AirTags were, as a picture of Tait’s camera shows an AirTag hanging off the strap in plain sight. A more clever thief could quickly dispose of such an AirTag, so it’s always a good idea to find a more discrete location. There are some useful AirTags accessories that can help with this.
Tait also did the proper and responsible thing, contacting law enforcement. Even if your AirTags can give you a conclusive location of a stolen item, it’s never a good idea to confront the thief yourself. The offender could get violent or simply use the opportunity to escape with your stuff.
The news article doesn’t say whether the thief was carrying an iPhone, although ironically, if they were, then it was their iPhone reporting the AirTag’s locations back to Tait. Given enough time, however, the thief’s iPhone would have eventually notified them of the presence of Tait’s AirTags, allowing them to be found and removed or destroyed.
That’s the biggest problem with balancing out the AirTag’s anti-stalking features with their usefulness for recovering stolen items. While Apple has made it expressly clear that recovering stolen goods is not the intention of AirTags, this tale still shows they can be very useful for this purpose — as long as you act quickly.
Sooner or later, the anti-stalking features will kick in, with audible alerts from the AirTag and iPhone/iPad notifications to let the thief know that your AirTag is tracking them. After all, technically speaking, your AirTag is tracking another person without their knowledge, and it’s impossible for your AirTag to know on its own whether the person carrying it is a thief or a victim.