AirTag stalking concerns raised around Baylor campus

Cases of stalking raise concerns for Apple AirTag users. Photo illustration by Grace Everett

By Clara Snyder | Staff Writer

The Apple AirTag was released in 2021 and was designed for users to keep track of personal items, but in recent months, the $29 device has become a tool for stalking and criminal activity. Incidents involving this form of cyberstalking have been appearing around the country, as well as within the Baylor community.

Trophy Club junior Maddie Howarth was at her off-campus home with her roommate a few weeks before spring break when they received a notification saying an unidentified AirTag had been tracking them. According to Howarth, the notification stated the tracking began at 3 p.m., but they were not notified until midnight.

“We were about to go out, and she got a notification on her phone that said, ‘There’s a non-identified AirTag device that has been tracking your car,’” Howarth said. “We were like, ‘What is happening?'”

Haworth said they were frightened by the knowledge that someone had been tracking them all day, and they went to a friend’s house for safety. Because of how many hours had passed before they were notified, Haworth said the individual who had placed the AirTag device now had access to a significant amount of information.

“They [now] knew where we lived,” Haworth said. “They knew where we went out. They knew where our friend’s house was. We were freaking out.”

According to Haworth, the first thing they did was call the Baylor Police Department. Haworth said they were told that BUPD did not know what an AirTag was and that the situation was not within its jurisdiction.

In response to the incident, Assistant Chief of Police Donald J. Rodman said although BUPD’s jurisdiction extends throughout McLennan County, its primary jurisdiction lies within the Baylor campus and properties.

“That’s not technically Baylor property; we patrol that area because, again, we have jurisdiction in that area,” Rodman said. “If it’s an off-campus apartment or some type of complex like that, it is going to be the City of Waco that has jurisdiction.”

Haworth said they then called the Waco Police Department. According to Haworth, the dispatcher told them they did not know what AirTags were either.

“[They said], ‘We don’t really know how we can help you, but we’ll have someone come out,’” Haworth said.

Haworth said an officer never came, so they decided to search the car themselves. According to Haworth, they located the AirTag on the inside of the wheel after 30 minutes of searching.

“We basically had to figure it out by ourselves,” Haworth said. “We had to figure out how to deactivate it and also how to make sure we were not being followed anymore.”

As a student studying social work and human trafficking, Haworth said she wishes law enforcement had taken their incident more seriously.

“Human trafficking in Texas is so common,” Haworth said. “So if they just made themselves more knowledgeable in this situation, I think we would have been a lot more at ease. But instead, it kind of seemed like a ‘fend for yourself’ kind of situation.”

Haworth said the “Baylor bubble” isn’t something that protects students from the reality of the world surrounding the university. Students need to be constantly aware of their surroundings and the things happening in Waco, Haworth said.

“I think as students, we just need to be making sure we’re protecting ourselves,” Haworth said. “Even if the cops are able to help us, just make sure you have a way to defend yourself, even if it’s just like pepper spray, because the Baylor bubble isn’t really real in my opinion; stuff happens all over Waco.”

Rodman said it is important to always maintain your property and have a state of hypervigilance. He also recommended using the BU Campus Guardian app, which allows students to get in touch with a dispatcher, text staff and make sure they get to their destination safely.

In the event that students find an unidentified AirTag has been placed in their belongings, Rodman said to take screenshots of the notifications and notify law enforcement. If the incident occurs outside of Baylor’s campus, students should notify the Waco Police Department.

“A lot of times, it does tell you there’s a warning that you could be tracked, and it’ll actually show the location,” Rodman said. “That’s a great resource to be able to determine which police department is going to be the best one to be able to reach out to.”

Additionally, Apple has compiled a list of suggestions in the event of an unidentified device being placed in one’s personal belongings.

If students do not want to file a police report, Rodman said there are other services that can be provided through the university and the Title IX office. Students who are victims of technology crimes such as AirTag stalking can also file an IC3 report through the FBI.