A 19-year-old Tennessee man was arrested over the weekend for allegedly attempting to surreptitiously track his partner using an Apple Watch hooked around the wheel of her car.
Police reportedly learned of the stalking attempt after a security officer at a local family safety center reported the man following the woman on premises, according to an affidavit obtained by WSMV4. The woman was reportedly there to acquire an order of protection, which makes sense considering she claimed the man had previously tried to kill her multiple times. That same man reportedly faced two domestic assault charges last year, WSMV4 notes.
The couple had reportedly used an app called Life360 to keep track of each other’s location in the past, though the woman claimed she would occasionally deactivate the app before heading to the family center. This reportedly enraged the stalker, who the woman claims sent her aggressive texts demanding to know her location.
Police reportedly arrived on the scene last week and found the man crouched beside the woman’s passenger side door. According to the police, the man had, at some point, wrapped his Apple Watch across the spokes of the woman’s passenger side front car wheel and then used the Watch to track her movements. When police eventually confronted him, he admitted the Watch was his. Now, he’s reportedly being charged with attaching an electronic tracking device to the woman’s vehicle.
Apple did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
The Case Illustrates One of the Most Nightmarish Examples of Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking, which has become disconcertingly more common alongside the rise of new technologies, generally refers to instances where creeps use the internet, mobile devices, or other electronic communication to harass or stalk a victim. Research on the practice varies, though, recent scientific surveys show somewhere around 35% and 46% of adult respondents claim to have been victims of technology-enabled stalking.
Though this was the first case Gizmodo could confirm of an Apple Watch being used in this way, Apple has found itself on the receiving end of stalking concerns in recent years, particularly in regards to its Tile-esque AirTags location tracking devices. These small, easy-to-attach circular disks were billed as a convenient way to keep track of your dog or house keys using Apple’ Find My network.
That same form factor, however, makes them partially attractive to stalkers looking to potentially drop a tag in an ex-partner’s backpack or the car seat and remotely monitor their location.
Those concerns aren’t just hypothetical what-ifs. There are already multiple alleged stalking cases involving AirTags reported across the country, as well as several cases of car thieves reportedly using the tags to track, and eventually steal, high-end vehicles.
Apple, to its credit, responded to many of these concerns by issuing a number of updates aimed at making its trackers less attractive to stalkers. Last year, Apple introduced a pop-up feature that alerts users if an AirTag separated from its intended owners is nearby. The device will also emit a chirping sound if it’s not near the owner’s phone for somewhere between 8 and 24 hours, ostensibly alerting a would be target. (It should be noted these chirping sounds aren’t particularly loud). Android users can also download Apple’s Tracker Detect App which will allow them to scan for unwanted Find My Connected devices nearby.
Most recently, Apple took its efforts a step further, announcing it would partner with law enforcement and provide paired AirTag account details if presented with a subpoena or “valid request.” That’s a notable carve-out for a company previously willing to stand toe-to-toe with the FBI to protect the personal privacy of its users. The company also recently added a new message during the device’s set up phase warning users about cyberstalking.
Apple didn’t respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment on whether or not they would act similarly in potential stalking cases related to Watch’s or iPhones.
To be clear, cyberstalking definitely precedes Apple’s AirtTags and represents an industry-wide issue far larger than any one company. At the same time though, Apple’s popularization of these small, relatively affordable (a single AirTag costs $30) and disposable trackers has arguably helped forward a new era of stalking possibilities and use cases. It’s for that same reason though that regular users probably shouldn’t worry too much about nervously checking their car tires for clinging Apple Watches. Unlike Air-Tags or other comparable tracing devices, a base Apple Watch can cost somewhere between $200-$400, making it a less likely vector for potential attacks.
If you are concerned about potential stalking issues on any of your Apple products you can view the company’s recently updated Personal Safety User Guide here.