Released in April 2021, the AirTag is a quarter-sized device that Apple describes on its website as "a super-easy way to keep track of your stuff."
Users can attach the $29 AirTag to a phone, a set of keys, or even drop one in a purse to keep track of their items through Apple's "Find My" app, which allows users, as well as their friends and family members, to track Apple devices.
But AirTags have made headlines recently for another reason: Police departments across the country are warning their communities that criminal suspects may be using the devices to track other people — or their vehicles — in a trend dubbed "AirTag stalking."
On Tuesday, a Pennsylvania police department said it was actively investigating a Jan. 14 incident in which a suspect apparently placed an AirTag on a woman's vehicle sometime between her trip to a local movie theater and back home, as FOX 29 Philadelphia first reported.
When she returned from the theater, the woman received an alert on her iPhone that read, "Unknown Accessory Detected – This Item Has Been Moving With You For A While," the Lower Providence Township Police Department said in a press release.
When she entered her home, her phone issued another notification, stating, "Safety Alert, Your Current Location Can Be Seen By The Owner Of This Item. You May Be Carrying This Item, Or It Could Be Located Closely. If This Item Is Not Familiar To You, You Can Disable It And Stop Sharing Your Location."
Her phone then displayed a map showing that the device was activated near the movie theater and remained active until she returned home.
At that point, the victim looked out her front window and reportedly noticed "an unknown vehicle sitting" down the road from her residence, police said in a press release. The victim approached the vehicle, at which point it drove away. The victim then received another notification on her phone as the unknown vehicle drove away, and the AirTag device eventually disconnected from her phone once the vehicle was out of sight, police said.
"Unfortunately, criminals are starting to use this technology for several reasons such as stalking purposes or to track vehicles they want to steal," police said. "The battery life of an Apple AirTag can last for more than a year before needing to be replaced. Even though Apple AirTags are designed to discourage unwanted tracking, it can still occur."
To disable an AirTag, users must locate the device and tap their phone to it, at which point a pop-up will direct users to a website, allowing them to disable the device.
A student at the University of Southern Indiana told WFIE in a Tuesday interview that she recently discovered she was being tracked by an AirTag, but the device only notified her after an entire day of tracking.
On Thursday, her phone alerted her than an "unknown device" was moving with her.
"So I clicked on it, and it showed that it had been put on the previous day at USI, followed me to my house, then I didn’t use my car for the rest of the night I was with a friend, so it stayed there," Sarah Jones told the outlet. "When I went back to USI in my car, it tracked me there and notified me later in the day. All the way back across town to my house, where it shows the AirTag was, then all the way back to USI the next day."
USI's public safety department is investigating the incident, WFIE reported.
Apple told FOX Business that iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later can recognize if an AirTag is not with its owner and traveling with a different individual. Apple issues an alert when that individual arrives home — according to the user's "Me" contact on their Apple devices — or at the end of the day if that individual does not return home based on travel patterns.
For those who do not have iPhones, AirTags will play a sound between a randomized time of eight to 24 hours of being separated from their owners in order to draw attention to the devices. Apple also introduced an app called Tracker Detect in the Google Play store in December 2021 to allow Android users to scan for item trackers that are disconnected from their owners.
Two weeks ago, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Brooks Nader claimed to Fox News that an AirTag was placed in her coat while she was out with friends in New York City on the evening of Jan. 5 and used to track her location without her knowledge. She previously shared her story on Jan. 6 via Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s Instagram page, which has 2.1 million followers.
"It said, ‘Unknown Accessory Detected,’" she recalled. "’This item has been moving for you for a while. The other can see your location.’ I’m just honestly grateful that I got that notification from Apple. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known."
Nader said "Find My" is an app that she and her family frequently use to ensure everyone is safe, especially while traveling. When Nader clicked on the notification, a pattern was shown from the time the alleged tracking began.
"It showed my path throughout the night," said Nader. "It started at the restaurant around 6:30 p.m., which tells me it was placed in my coat."
Later that night, Nader and her husband searched through her coat and found an Apple AirTag. Not knowing what the small device was, she took to her Instagram story and asked her nearly 900K followers if anyone knew what it meant. That’s when she received an outpouring of messages from other women sharing their own horrifying experiences.
"We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTag’s privacy and security," an Apple spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. "AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking — a first in the industry — that both inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them, and deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes. If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag."
Additionally, because AirTags are connected to users' Apple IDs, corresponding account information such as names and email addresses may be provided to law enforcement with a valid request, according to Apple.
Apple's devices come equipped with end-to-end encryption, meaning that when users use the "Find My" app to locate misplaced devices, users' information is not visible to the company or anyone else besides the users themselves.
Fox News' Stephen Sorace contributed to this report.