Apple's AirTags were billed as an easy way to track your keys and wallet, but now the small button-sized device are being used by stalkers and thieves to track people and steal cars.

Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The chiming seemed to be coming from somewhere inside the car.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So my cousin just got an alert that there's an AirTag near us. And so we've been, like, destroying her car, trying to find it. Looked in the trunk. There's nothing in there.

KELLY: You are hearing sound from a TikTok video that shows two people ripping apart their car after a notification popped up on their phone. The message warned that an AirTag that was not theirs was nearby.

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

AirTags made by Apple are about the size of a quarter. They're meant for people to attach to their key ring or wallet in case they lose them. Using their phone, they can pinpoint the AirTag's location to find their stuff. Unfortunately, this makes the device an attractive tool for stalkers and thieves to follow people.

KELLY: Apple has built-in security features to prevent abuse, like the notification that the pair in the TikTok video received, and the chime.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIME)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So play it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIME)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You think it's back there?

KELLY: The chime sounds when the AirTag is separated from its owner, and it eventually led the pair in the video to the one they were searching for.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, my gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's right there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, my gosh.

KELLY: Though not before they tore out the back seat of their car.

NADWORNY: This is one of a number of recent stories about people finding AirTags hidden in their belongings.

EVA GALPERIN: I was concerned ahead of their release as soon as I figured out how they worked.

NADWORNY: Eva Galperin is the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She says Apple should have done more to protect people from the start.

GALPERIN: I think that Apple has been very careful and responsive after putting the product out, but the fact that they chose to bring the product to market in the state that it was in last year is shameful.

KELLY: Renee Williams, who directs the National Center for Victims of Crime, says there's a history of new technology being used for malicious purposes.

RENEE WILLIAMS: As technology becomes more sophisticated and advanced, as wonderful as that is for society, unfortunately, it also becomes much easier to misuse and abuse.

KELLY: What's rare, she says, is that a company is taking the issue seriously.

WILLIAMS: I think Apple even being open to feedback from groups such as ours is a huge step.

KELLY: When we reached out to Apple, they directed us to a press release that says they are working with law enforcement and plan to roll out more AirTag security updates this year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

<div>Correction</div>

An earlier version of this story said iPhone users will receive a notification if an AirTag is separated from its owner and is moving with them over time - if they have an iPhone 11 or later and their phone is running on iOS 14.5 or later. This is incorrect. The iOS 14.5 works back to and including the iPhone 6.