ALERT! New way to steal important violins!

January 1, 2022, 3:07 AM · First of all, Happy New Year to you all!

Here are some excerpts from a recent NYT article:

On a Sunday night in September, Ashley Estrada was at a friend’s home in Los Angeles when she received a strange notification on her iPhone: “AirTag Detected Near You.”

An AirTag is a 1.26-inch disc with location-tracking capabilities that Apple started selling earlier this year as a way “to keep track of your stuff.” Ms. Estrada, 24, didn’t own one, nor did the friends she was with. The notification on her phone said the AirTag had first been spotted with her four hours earlier. A map of the AirTag’s history showed the zigzag path Ms. Estrada had driven across the city while running errands.

Ms. Estrada is not alone in her experience. In recent months, people have posted on TikTok, Reddit and Twitter about finding AirTags on their cars and in their belongings. There is growing concern that the devices may be abetting a new form of stalking, which privacy groups predicted could happen when Apple introduced the devices in April.

In Canada, a local police department said that it had investigated five incidents of thieves placing AirTags on “high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them.”

(this is where the danger lies with high-end instruments inside their cases)

Apple automatically turned every iOS device into part of the network that AirTags use to report the location of an AirTag,” Ms. Galperin said. “The network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”

After a Friday night out with her boyfriend this month, Erika Torres, a graduate music student in New Orleans, was notified by her iPhone that an “unknown accessory” had been detected near her over a two-hour period, moving with her from a bar to her home.

She called the police and she called Apple, but she never found an AirTag. An Apple representative told her other devices could set off the alert, including AirPods. When Ms. Torres posted a video about her experience to YouTube, a dozen people commented about it happening to them. “The number of reports makes me think there must be some sort of glitch that is causing all these people to experience this,” Ms. Torres said. “I hope they’re not all being stalked.”

Ms. Estrada, who got the notification while in Los Angeles, eventually found the quarter-sized tracker lodged in a space behind the license plate of her 2020 Dodge Charger. She posted a video of her ordeal on TikTok, which went viral.

Another woman was notified by her iPhone that she was being tracked by an “unknown accessory” after leaving her gym in November. When she got home, she called the police.

The woman, Michaela Clough of Corning, Calif., was told that a report could only be filed if someone showed up at her home and that Apple’s notifications were not enough proof that she was being stalked. She later got in touch with an Apple customer service representative who was able to disconnect the device from Ms. Clough’s iPhone. The device was never found.

Jahna Maramba rented a vehicle from the car-sharing service Turo last month in Los Angeles, then received a notification about an unknown AirTag near her on a Saturday night with her girlfriends.

She took the vehicle to her friend’s parking garage where she searched the outside of the car for an hour before its owner notified her that he had placed the device inside the vehicle. Ms. Maramba had been driving the car for two days.

Internet-connected devices, designed for easy monitoring for consumer convenience, are being turned into spying tools.

(Copyright New York Times; consultable in today's print edition as well as online)

Replies (11)

January 1, 2022, 1:52 PM · Worrying. Very!
January 1, 2022, 2:32 PM · I wonder how many instrument thefts are planned rather than opportunistic? And of course the home is still the place they're most likely to be found.
Edited: January 1, 2022, 3:30 PM · Ah, the wonders of tech!

I live in the SF Bay Area (aka: Silicon Valley, aka: techie central), so I'm constantly hearing about how "wonderful" technology is. And for all its good points, there is stuff like this. Precisely the sort of thing we predicted was going to happen and why there was outrage about these things months ago.

And wasn't Apple proclaiming (with dollar signs in their eyes) that "there are safeguards", and "these can't be used for stalking"? Really?

Message to techies: "Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD."

But, I guess profit is more important... That coupled with a massive degree of arrogance and a sense of entitlement.

January 2, 2022, 12:10 AM · I mostly agree but also expect that folk with expensive violins will consider getting these and will be less likely to lose them in airports, trains, etc. They'll probably be required by insurance companies eventually. Technology always is a double edged sword.
January 2, 2022, 1:20 AM · Since I nowadays work in IT, I feel compelled to give my input.
I think that this is good news.
There are lots of electronic tracking devices that does the same thing, but Apple finally decided to release a tag that had any kind of security measure - which is shown by the notifications on the iPhone.
If the person tracking would be using a competitor, like Tile that uses a network of about 100 million devices, but doesn't notify.

So that people are getting these notifications are in essence a good thing for the reciever, now they know that someone is following/tracking them.

Edited: January 2, 2022, 2:19 AM · Here's part of a paper I wrote on the subject last year:


Today, the three most popular Bluetooth trackers on the market are: Tile (who invented the system, and was financed with a crowd funding), Samsung’s Smart Tag, and Apple’s AirTag. These devices cost as much as a lunch in trattoria, they do not require any subscription, they are as small as half of a key fob, and the battery life is up to a year. If they are put inside of a violin case, they are easily hidden.

Tile uses a network consisting in other Tile users: if something containing a Tile is lost or stolen, it is possible to report the object as “missing” to the network and as soon as it enters the range of another Tile user, its location is automatically (and anonymously) reported on the dedicated app. The main flaw is in this: although 35 million Tiles have been sold so far in 195 nations, the coverage is anything but complete, and the effective range remains that of the Bluetooth signal, 100 meters at the most (Tile model Pro). Depending on the location, days or months can go by before another Tile user happens to be nearby, being able to send the localization signal.

Samsung’s Smart Tag and Apple’s AirTag have an advantage over Tile, such as being able to count on the vast network of millions of smart phones of those brands. However, Samsung’s smart phone will suggest to close the app – if it is installed on it – when it is not used in order to save the battery, a thing that many people will do, reducing the number of other users who can signal the position of the object. Apple’s Air Tag is much better, because it works with any recent iPhone even if the app is not installed.

In a practical test done by the Wall Street Journal, a bag (entrusted to a third party) “abandoned” on a street corner in Manhattan was localized in 4 minutes with AirTag, while Tile and Smart Tag found it only much later.

Therefore, is AirTag the perfect solution to follow a stolen violin case? No, it isn’t. In order that the device is not used to illegally follow people (stalking), Apple had to set some boundaries. If the thief who steals your instrument owns an iPhone with iOS 14.5 or superior, a message will appear on his phone telling that there is someone else’s AirTag in close proximity. After 72 hours that the iPhone is far from the device associated to it, it will ring, characteristics which soon also Tile and Smart Tag will have.

Today, new generation GPS trackers are available, such as the LandAirSea 54. It is produced in the USA, it works worldwide thanks to the 4G LTE technology, its battery charge lasts six months and it is more or less as big as a cake of rosin (and can be easily camouflaged as one), probably it is the best on the market together with the GeoForce GT0. The only limitations are the cost (one must make a monthly subscription, which is actually not too expensive) and the typical limits of the GPS itself, such as the black-out inside of the buildings because the GPS signal requires a mostly open sky.

January 2, 2022, 2:24 AM · @Steve, eleven important violins were stolen and vanished without a trace: a Gioffredo Cappa from 1690, a Guadagnini from 1778, a Nicolò Amati from 1675, and eight Stradivaris including the 1727 “Davidoff”.

Of these instruments, six were stolen from the owner's home, in a clearly well-planned action.

January 2, 2022, 2:44 AM · I'm looking up at a rack of unimportant violins... I'm a bit confused; are we more worried about our own trackers being hacked or an alien tracker being planted in our violin case? I guess the lesson is, if you play a valuable instrument, be careful; but weren't you all doing that already?
Edited: January 2, 2022, 4:38 AM · @Erin, I recently bought a small EV for use in the city. It knows where I live, where I work, and where drive it because it's got GPS. It can listen to anything I say (or know whom I am with) because it has a mic for the speakerphone, and it knows when I exceed the speed limit.

It is connected to the cellphone network with a SIM card which is hidden somewhere, I couldn't find it (it's supposed to be an anti-theft thing). I had a warning light come on, so I called the dealer: the mechanic via his computer remotely checked the situation and turned the light off. I hope some other guy doesn't hack into my car and turn the brake system off.

Orwell, anyone?

January 2, 2022, 9:49 AM · It's a fascinating topic. I read an article a while ago that said the use of lojack dramatically reduced car theft in the US. Video surveillance is some parts of the world is accomplishing similar things for many crimes (theft, battery, etc.).

I do think it would be somewhat anxiety producing to have a very expensive violin.

January 19, 2022, 7:31 AM · I've read about these devices previously. I wonder if there's an app that can be loaded onto a Mac whose purpose is to sound an alert, when these devices are detected?

A violin doesn't have to be worth that much to justify about a $K for a decent, used Liberty Safe. I have one that's about four feet tall, and the fiddle goes into the safe every night, or anytime that we leave the house. It also holds other valuables.

Companies that insure musical instruments usually don't cover for "mysterious" disappearance. One nice thing, if a violin disappears from a locked safe (which is unlikely), it's going to be difficult for an insurance company to claim "mysterious disappearance." (Like, if thieves take the safe that's been bolted to the floor.)

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