A suburban Chicago couple who discovered an Apple AirTag hidden in the wheel well of their car last summer, apparently tracking their every move, are now part of an expanded lawsuit against Apple accusing the company of creating a device that’s easily exploited by stalkers.
Desiree and Frank Freeman’s experience is one of 35 new examples added to the proposed class action filed in federal court in Northern California.
The couple, who lived in Country Club Hills but have since moved elsewhere in the Chicago area, discovered that someone was tracking them last June when their niece, who’d been riding in their car, got an alert on her iPhone that an AirTag was nearby.
Desiree Freeman then heard beeps in the car. But she and her husband couldn’t find anything despite hours of searching. They called the police, who found an AirTag wrapped in black tape and concealed in a wheel well of the car next to a splash guard.
“It was very unsettling,” says Desiree Freeman, who says the couple still has no idea who placed it there. “Very, very creepy.”
Like others who have joined in the legal action and say they’ve been unwittingly tracked with AirTags, the couple has experienced “profound emotional distress” over their safety and that of their 7-month-old daughter, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit is an expanded version of an earlier case that seeks class action certification on behalf of anyone in the United States who was tracked without consent by an AirTag.
It accuses Apple of being negligent in designing and selling an item that so easily could be used by stalkers.
Marketed as a way for people to find a lost wallet, luggage or keys, AirTags retail for $29 and rely on Bluetooth technology to allow the owner to geolocate whatever item they’re attached to.
Almost immediately after they were introduced in April 2021, reports surfaced of domestic violence victims and others being stalked by people who’d attached AirTags to their vehicles or other items.
A Chicago Sun-Times investigation last year found numerous reports filed with the Chicago Police Department about mysterious AirTags used to stalk or harass people. The reports, from across the city, included instances of ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands mysteriously showing up at places the stalking victims would go. Only later, when victims found an AirTag, did they realize they’d been tracked.
Domestic violence experts say the technology is an easy way for abusers to exert control — constantly knowing where their victims are and being able to surprise them at any moment.
Apple has said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products.”
Apple sends a notification to iPhone users if an AirTag is in their vicinity, and the devices are designed to chime if they are away from their owners for an unspecified period, which the lawsuit says is now between four and eight hours.
The company did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
In May, Apple and Google announced a plan to standardize alerts across Apple and Android phones for AirTags and other trackers by the end of the year.
That’s meant to close a gap in warning victims who use Android phones, who’ve had to download a free Tracker Detect app and frequently check it to have any hope of finding a unwanted AirTag.
But the lawsuit that the Freemans have joined says those steps still give stalkers a head start in tracking victims. It also says people with older iPhones could miss out on the safety improvements.
Many victims said they never received alerts or got the notices hours after the person tracking them already knew where they lived and worked.
A New York woman who had an Android phone was tracked for more than a year by an AirTag in her car’s wheel well, the suit says.
California attorney Gillian Wade, who filed the lawsuit, says there are “many more” victims not included in the lawsuit because they “are afraid to sue because they fear reprisals from their stalkers.”
“It’s really awful,” Wade says. “This shouldn’t be happening.”
Victims in the lawsuit include women and men.
The AirTags often were hidden in vehicles. But, in some instances, the lawsuit says, they were placed in the backpack of a child, sewn into a victim’s purse or even stuffed inside a doll.
“It freaked me out that I couldn’t protect my family,” says Frank Freeman, saying the trackers prioritize convenience over safety. “That’s not OK. You can’t put profit over people’s safety.”