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Apple popularized cheap Bluetooth location trackers with its AirTags, allowing owners to find misplaced keys or stolen bags, bikes, and more. Unfortunately, the trackers powered by Apple's Find My network can also serve as a tool for stalkers who sneak the discreet trackers into victims’ bags, jackets, or cars. With a few highly publicized cases like this, Apple's trackers were quickly met with backlash, something that Tile, the company that originally popularized the Bluetooth tracking concept, is also experiencing.

Both Apple and Tile tried to combat privacy concerns with new options that allow potential victims to find and spot strangers’ trackers in their proximity, but this system has its flaws. For one, the onus is on potential victims who need to install an app and actively check for trackers. For another, it is actively helping thieves spot AirTags and Tile trackers on stolen goods, effectively rendering the anti-theft idea useless.

To combat these problems, Tile has announced an improved solution to make its trackers useful against theft again all while deterring stalkers from usage. Users who identify themselves with government-issued IDs and agree to a set of rules will be able to turn on a new Anti-Theft Mode, which hides trackers from Tile’s Scan and Secure network.

To join the program, Tile users will have to manually active the option and have to agree to the following set of rules:

1. Verify their real identity with a government-issued ID

2. Allow us to partner and share this information with law enforcement (even without a subpoena if stalking is suspected)

3. Agree to pay a $1 million penalty if they are convicted in a court of law to have used Tile in a criminal manner

Despite the wide-reaching implications of the second rule that potentially gives law enforcement access to location data without a subpoena, Tile says that customers who follow the law have nothing to worry about. Instead, this system would allow it to focus the full weight of its repercussions on reported stalkers. People who opt into the optional system still need to place a lot of trust in the company and in the police.

That being said, the feature would finally make Tile trackers useful again. An anti-theft tracker that can easily be spotted by the thief is, after all, an ineffective tool.

Tile is also making a case that both its trackers and AirTags are rarely an issue, with the media focusing on the 0.01% of cases where people do misuse these tools. The company advocates for more severe punishments in stalking cases, which has many perpetrators walk away with little to no repercussions. Tile says,

While we take our responsibility as the leading cross-platform Bluetooth locator seriously, we think that it is extremely misguided that media coverage and regulatory focus are not aimed at common sense laws, such as stricter penalties for what is an obvious crime and targeted regulation for technologies such as real-time GPS devices which are significantly more likely to be misused (we are not passing the buck — we have a sister company, Jiobit, which manufacturers a real-time GPS tracker, but the tracker can not be used anonymously which means we have very few reports of nefarious use). We strongly encourage the media, large platforms, and regulators to take a step back and reevaluate whether they are reacting to limited one-off examples and not a more significant emerging trend.

The story we’ve been told that a random stranger will slip a Bluetooth tracker into a woman’s purse and follow them home is an extreme outlier. While we will do our best to ensure that even these outliers face punishment, we should acknowledge that there are likely exponentially more victims of stalking than there are Bluetooth locators that have ever been sold.

As promising as Tile’s approach sounds in its effort to make its trackers useful again, keep in mind that Tile was bought by Life360 in 2022. The company, which popularized a family-safety platform that helps family members track each others’ locations, was caught selling precise location data of users in late 2021 and only promised to stop this practice in 2022. It is instead switching to an approach where it sells only aggregated data, which can in theory still be traced back to individuals, as privacy nonprofit EFF explains.