Are Apple AirTags tracking students illegally?

For the love of technology!

Have you ever noticed that technology always seems to have a dark side? We get excited about all the latest toys and gadgets. We must have the next big thing. The problem there is that we will dive into new tech without considering the unintended consequences of using them. One of the downfalls is that these devices are becoming ever more intrusive. They violate our privacy with tracking controls and a persistent presence in our spaces. I recently explained to my daughter the concept of acceptable levels of risk. This appears to be one of those areas where this equation comes into play.

Tracking Students

About a decade ago, the state of California passed laws prohibiting tracking students with radio-frequency identification or RFID devices. Initially, these devices were meant to protect school district property like laptops. However, some individuals used these embedded tracking devices for unintended purposes, electronically following and tracking students. Sensibly, our legislature wanted to protect students from predators, pedophiles, and others who did not have the best interests of the students at heart.

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Apple Air Tags—A New Problem

One of the main issues with technology is that it quickly outpaces our laws and policies. The Apple AirTag is an example of this. These handy devices are useful trackers for locating everyday items like keys, wallets, and purses. The tags, which are maybe the size and thickness of two quarters pressed together, use Bluetooth to keep in contact with your phone. You can use your phone to track down the location of the tags—and whatever valuable item they’re attached to.

The uses of the AirTags and other similar devices are plentiful, but they have far greater reach than the original RFID devices. Someone can track an RFID in passive mode from up to 35-40 feet away, and in active mode, about 330 feet. By comparison, a criminal could track an AirTag via Bluetooth from as far away as 800 feet. This has led to some media attention about some extraordinary criminal activities. These very popular devices have been placed in people’s vehicles, backpacks, purses, luggage, briefcases, etc. Criminals are using them to determine the whereabouts of a particular individual on any specific day. Private investigators used to perform these tasks for legitimate purposes at the cost of thousands of dollars. Now, for under $30, you can track anything or anyone you like.

What Do We Do About It?

This is highly concerning when we think about our students. We will need to develop additional risk management techniques to help identify the use of AirTags or similar devices. We also must consider creating policies that are enforceable by our school districts. The RFID legislation does not specifically identify AirTags, but we should treat them similarly to those devices. I want to dive a little deeper into the subject. I hope you will join Matt and me in our video discussing the AirTag and showing you some of its uses and how it works.

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