Earlier this year, Apple launched its own GPS Tracker: the Apple AirTag. With this GPS tracker, you can find out the location of, for example, your key ring. But the functions of the small device can also serve very different purposes, such as stalking. Apple has already taken steps to combat stalking, but the unwilling can still abuse such devices. The use of GPS trackers in stalking appears to be a growing problem.
Stalking: a growing problem
The number of reports of stalking that the police receive has been increasing in recent years. In 2019 and 2020 in particular, the number of registered stalking crimes is much higher than in previous years. Moreover, an increasing proportion of stalking cases remain unsolved.
And although there were about 4,000 reports of stalking in 2019, the number of victims is much higher. According to Victim Support Netherlands, there were more than
100,000 victims of stalking that year.
GPS trackers are also increasingly appearing in the news when reporting on stalking cases. The subject was discussed in various regional media because of a local stalker, including at the Brabants Dagblad, Omroep Gld and the Leeuwarder Courant. A participant in the Temptation Island program was also found to use a GPS tracker to keep an eye on her friend‘s hallways.
GPS trackers make stalking childishly easy
Stalkers are thrown information into their lap with GPS trackers. It is not only childishly easy to place such a small device somewhere (for example under a car or in a child’s teddy bear ). With the Apple AirTag, several videos are circulating on YouTube in which a hack is shown to disable the security signal.
That beep goes off when it’s away from the device it’s paired with for an extended period of time. A security that Apple enabled to, among other things, prevent stalking.
More and more lawsuits with GPS trackers
Since 2015, the number of lawsuits in which GPS trackers play a role has increased sharply. Where there were 2 lawsuits involving GPS trackers in 2015, this number has increased to 29 in 2020.
Acquittal in more than a quarter of court cases
However, a lawsuit does not always lead to a conviction. In more than a quarter of the cases, a suspect is fully acquitted (28%) and in almost one in ten judgments, a suspect is partially acquitted of the offences.
This was also the case in a lawsuit brought by a Sittard jeweler . A GPS tracker was placed under his car, but the suspects were acquitted on appeal for following the jeweller’s corridors.
Stalking protection on popular GPS trackers
There are now three popular GPS trackers for consumers on the market: the Tile, Apple AirTag and the SmartTag from Samsung. However, these three are not (yet) all equipped with a function to unmask stalkers.
The SmartTag did not have such a function when it was introduced, but now it does: a SmartTag can be found via another device. The person who is (possibly) being tracked via a SmartTag must, however, carry out a check himself to find out the SmartTag. Someone who suspects nothing will therefore not soon find out that he/she is being followed.
The makers of Tile indicate that they will integrate an anti-stalking function into the device in the course of 2022. This device can currently collect location data undetected from the person carrying a Tile for 30 days.
Although the AirTag is equipped with an anti-stalking function, this turns out to be easy to circumvent. When the device is too long away from its owner, a warning sound will sound. However, the speaker from which this sound comes can remove a malicious person from the device, according to various YouTube videos .
In addition, an audible signal will only go off at the AirTag after three days, if it has been away from the owner for all that time. A cohabiting partner can therefore often follow his or her partner unnoticed.
Retrieve information via GPS tracker
Incidentally, it is not only possible to find out the location of a GPS tracker, but much more information can be collected with it. A YouTube account called AirtagAlex shows how much information can be obtained through an AirTag.
For example, in a video in which he sends an AirTag to the king, he can find out what time staff are present at Noordeinde Palace and how much activity there is per day. This information has since been removed from the video in question.
Tips to help with stalking
Is someone close to you possibly being stalked? It can be difficult to assess how serious the stalking is and how dangerous the situation is. A victim of stalking may not understand the seriousness or may be afraid to ask for help. To help the victim, you can do a number of things:
- Help collect evidence against the stalker
This way you build a kind of log of when and how the stalker harasses your neighbour. You can also help write a stop letter in an attempt to stop the stalking. Cameras around the house can also be useful here.
- Offer a listening ear
. Realize that the victim may not yet see himself as a victim, and maybe downplaying the situation out of uncertainty. Take your loved one’s concerns seriously and emphasize that what the stalker does is not normal.
- Do an online check together
Your loved one may not have a good idea of what can be found online about them. Do a kind of privacy check together by googling which information is easy to find. Can you no longer make (part of) that information from the internet publicly accessible?
- Enable private mode social media accounts
It is wise to change social media accounts to private mode and block the stalker. This way the stalker can no longer view messages. The stalker can easily pose as a stranger online, so don’t just add strangers to social media channels.
- Help with the report
Is the stalking getting out of hand or is a dangerous situation developing? Then you can file a report with the police. Always do this in consultation with the victim. Sometimes the person has doubts or concerns about the consequences of such a declaration, so it is good to discuss this in advance. Is the declaration insufficient? Then you can take steps towards a criminal trial or request a contact ban.
To investigate how GPS trackers play a role in digital stalking, VPNGids.nl consulted various sources. Figures on stalking come from CBS. In addition, all lawsuits were viewed on Rechtspraak.nl in which ‘GPS tracker’, ‘GPS box’, ‘positioning device’ or ‘track & trace system’ was used as the term.
After this selection, it was manually checked whether a case was related to the tracking of an individual, without it having to do with, for example, a fixed GPS device in a truck or, for example, an ankle bracelet.
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