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Tile takes extreme steps to limit stalkers and thieves from using its Bluetooth trackers
February 17, 2023

Tile takes extreme steps to limit stalkers and thieves from using its Bluetooth trackers

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Apple took a big PR hit as news spread that its item tracker the AirTag was being used for stalking and car thefts, which led the company to retool its software with a closer eye on user safety. AirTag’s competitor Tile is now introducing its own plan to make its device safer, with the launch of a new feature called ‘anti-theft mode,’ which prevents the tracker from being detected by anyone but its owner. But it’s taking things a bit further, and will now require users to register using multi-factor authentication, including biometric data, and a government ID to use this new protection. Users will also have to agree to new terms of use that allow Tile to provide their personal information to law enforcement at its discretion when a criminal investigation is underway, without having to wait for a subpoena. And it’s threatening to sue anyone who uses Tile to commit crimes that violate its terms of service.

The goal of this new agenda is to serve as a deterrent toward criminals who may have otherwise turned to non-AirTag devices following Apple’s crackdown, including for stalking, theft or any other criminal acts. However, it’s unclear if Tile’s position of being ‘highly collaborative’ with law enforcement, as its announcement states, is one that’s fully protecting people’s rights to due process — a court order, subpoena, search warrant or some sort of legal request should be issued before a company simply hands over user’s personal and private data.

‘Location sharing and finding have become a part of our daily fabric, and it’s not going anywhere. We develop products for the vast majority of people who use them as intended, and for those who do not, we are committed to cooperating fully with law enforcement,’ said Life360 co-founder and CEO Chris Hulls, whose company acquired Tile for $205 million in 2021, in a statement. ‘To meaningfully address stalking with technology, we must implement safeguards like ID registration of all location-enabled devices that are small enough to be planted on a person so law enforcement have information to pursue justice for victims. In the meantime, we’ll do what we can at the product level to keep people safe from the outlying cases of bad actors while increasing the likelihood of recovering stolen items with Tile to help people live more relaxed lives,’ he said.

But the deterrent may come across as a threat to any and all of Tile’s users, not just criminals. States the company, ‘users must acknowledge that personal information can and will be shared with law enforcement at our discretion, even without a subpoena, to aid in the investigation and prosecution of suspected stalking.’ 

Meanwhile, the new anti-theft mode takes on theft by rendering Tile’s tracker invisible to anyone who tries to use the Scan and Secure feature to scan for trackers on the stolen goods. This allows the victim to continue to track their item, but makes it more difficult for the thief to locate a hidden tracker or tag when committing a crime.

Tile will now require anyone who wants to activate the anti-theft mode to verify themselves with multi-factor authentication, including biometrics, and their government-issued ID. It also says its technology can detect fake IDs. Once complete, the anti-theft mode can be enabled across the users’ devices. The company says that requiring users to register their accounts with an ID removes the anonymity associated with trackers, which deters stalkers and abusers from using these devices in such a way.

What’s more, the new terms of service allow Tile to additionally sue anyone who’s convicted in court for stalking using its trackers. The ID verification process makes prosecution easier, it says, and this also serves as a deterrent. It says it would sue for a $1 million fine (though of course, that’s up to the courts to decide). The company explains that lawsuits are expensive, but there are so few cases of stalking with Tile devices that it decided it would be willing to take this on. The threat of the fine would also work as a deterrent, Tile believes.

In announcing the news, Tile calls out Apple’s technology as ‘insufficient protection’ for victims and claims the proactive alerts Apple sends make AirTag trackers easier to find by anyone, including thieves, in an attempt to disparage Apple’s product. But in trying to balance consumer demand with safety protections, it’s positioning itself as a pro-law enforcement company as both a marketing ploy and deterrent, at a time when people’s trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low. It’s not clear that consumers will respond well to this, even if they’re not criminals.

Combined, the changes come across as an overcorrection on Tile’s part. Until recently, Tile may have looked like a viable alternative for criminals given it didn’t have anti-stalking safety tech at all until last March, and even then its tools weren’t as comprehensive as what was provided by Apple. Instead, Tile’s Scan and Secure technology designed to detect unknown trackers traveling with a person lacked precision finding, its scans took longer to perform and they had to be triggered manually. It didn’t send proactive alerts about trackers traveling with you.

But instead of implementing similar tech upgrades to compete with Apple, Tile is requiring more user personal data and issuing threats.


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