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Two women sue Apple, saying stalkers used AirTags to track them

The $29 tracking device ‘has become the weapon of choice of stalkers and abusers,’ the lawsuit asserts

(Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Lauren Hughes had just gotten back to her hotel in October 2021 when her phone showed an alert for an unknown Apple AirTag somewhere near her.

Hughes, who had moved to the hotel after her ex-boyfriend started stalking her, tried to get the AirTag to make sound so she could find it, but heard it only once, a court filing says. She said she found the AirTag in the wheel well of a tire on her car.

Discovering the tracking device, which had been colored with a marker and wrapped in plastic, left her feeling “terrified,” according to the court record.

On Monday, Hughes and a second unnamed woman filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple, saying the company failed to make its AirTags “stalker-proof” despite concerns from domestic violence advocates when the technology was released last year. The lawsuit in the Northern District of California accuses Apple of negligence, design defects and privacy violations, among other allegations.

“Ms. Hughes continues to fear for her safety — at minimum, her stalker has evidenced a commitment to continuing to use AirTags to track, harass, and threaten her, and continues to use AirTags to find her location,” the lawsuit says.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, instead pointing to a February statement on “unwanted tracking” with AirTags, which the company said “we condemn in the strongest possible terms.” Apple now has information on what to do when alerted of an AirTag, including tapping the notification to listen for the device’s sound and locate it.

Since the AirTags were introduced in April 2021 with the intention of making it easier for people to locate belongings such as wallets and luggage, critics have pointed out that the Bluetooth-enabled devices could be used by predators.

Even with those warnings, the lawsuit says, Apple “heedlessly forged ahead, dismissing concerns” before and after the technology’s release.

The two plaintiffs are both victims of stalking and are suing on behalf of themselves and others “who have been and who are at risk of stalking via this dangerous product,” according to the complaint.

Hughes, who lives in Travis County, Tex., said in the lawsuit that her ex-boyfriend began stalking her in August 2021 following their breakup. The complaint alleges that her ex made fake accounts to follow her on social media, posted their text conversations online and left her threatening voice mails.

He also left a package at Hughes’s apartment with photos of her, the lawsuit alleges. With the package came a handwritten note with Hughes’s first name at the top and ending with: “Be well. This is goodbye,” according to photos included in the lawsuit.

By October of last year, Hughes decided to live at a hotel until she could move to a new home, according to the lawsuit. After Hughes found the AirTag on her car, the lawsuit says Apple Store employees she consulted told her they “could not tell” how long the device had been there.

Hughes said in the lawsuit that police told her all they could do was read her ex-boyfriend a cease and desist.

The second plaintiff in the case, a woman identified as “Jane Doe” of Kings County, N.Y., said she, too, had been tracked by an ex using an AirTag. Doe said that after a “contentious divorce,” her former spouse began questioning where she went with their child and when, according to the lawsuit.

She found an AirTag in the child’s backpack this summer and tried to get rid of it, the complaint says, but she soon found another in the same bag. The woman was unable to confirm whether her former spouse had placed the devices there but said in the lawsuit that she fears for her safety regardless.

The lawsuit is seeking damages for the two plaintiffs and others like them, as well as an order to prevent Apple from “further unlawful, unfair and/or fraudulent practices with respect to the design, manufacture, and release into the market of its AirTags.”

“With a price point of just $29, it has become the weapon of choice of stalkers and abusers,” the lawsuit states.

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