Skip to main content

Apple AirTag tracked across the UK — Here's what we learned

Apple AirTags
(Image credit: Apple)

An Apple enthusiast used an AirTag to track a package across the UK using the tech giant's expansive Find My network.

Apple writer and enthusiast Kirk McElhearn posted a package with an AirTag inside and sent it across the United Kingdom. He successfully tracked the device's entire journey from Stratford-upon-Avon to a friend's location near London. However, McElhearn found a few issues with the tracker. 

As detailed in an Intego security blog post (via MacRumors), McElhearn taped an AirTag to a card and mailed it with first-class postage. Using the Find My app on his iPhone and iPad, he saw the package at a local sorting station then on the move via truck delivery to a "highly automated mail processing centre" (the South Midlands Mail Centre). 

After this, McElhearn set up a script on his MacBook to take pictures of the AirTag package on the move every two minutes, effectively tracking its whereabouts live. The following morning, the friend received that package. 

Apple AirTag mishap 

AirTags can precisely locate any item they're attached to in relation to other Apple products in the general vicinity using sound and haptic feedback. This means that even if there is a single iPhone, iPad, or other Apple device within the Find My network that is located near the AirTag, a user will be able to locate the tracker. 

As pointed out in the post, the AirTag could be discovered via McElhearn's Find My network app because people in the mailing facility, the truck drivers carrying the package, or even people driving nearby, had an Apple device on them. 

The experiment shows how expansive the Find My network is in the United Kingdom, as there are clearly many people with an Apple device that can help an AirTag user find their lost item. As shown here, it can even go as far as live tracking the item in crowded areas. 

However, McElhearn found a flaw. When the device arrived at the friend's location, the AirTag didn't send an "AirTag Found Moving With You" message to their iPhone. As we've previously reported, the AirTag will either notify an unsuspecting user with a message or alert them with a sound if an AirTag has been separated from the person who registered it. 

According to the post, it takes up to three days before an AirTag notifies nearby users with a message. However, the friend never received a notification, even after that time period. The writer states, "my friend thinks he might have heard a sound at some point, but he couldn’t be sure, because he had the TV on at the time."

One of Apple AirTag's key features is letting other iOS users know of an unknown AirTag that's been following them or is located around them. Apple's security precaution prevents unwanted tracking and someone using the device for malicious reasons. While this experiment was between friends, it's not a good sign that this feature failed to work, and that it can potentially take up to three days for an AirTag to notify a user. 

This could be the fault of the particular AirTag that was used in the experiment. Either way, AirTags can clearly be used in interesting ways. Check out McElhearn's post for further details.