We posted our Apple AirTag

Apple AirTag
Apple AirTag

It’s a Friday. Out of boredom and inspired by a YouTube video (shared by @PrepComms UK) about a guy who posted tracking devices to North Korea and to Apple HQ, we thought we’d try an experiment.

If you’re not familiar with Apple’s AirTags, they’re £30 devices intended to clip to your keyring (or similar) so that you can find your lost keys. They’re passive devices using NFC technology (same tech as used in contactless payment cards) and Bluetooth. If the keys are in your house, you can use an Apple iPhone or iPad to ‘direction-find’ using NFC and/or Bluetooth. So far, so good, and handy for misplaced items around the house, where short-range comms can help locate it.

The clever bit is that a lost item can also be tracked if it’s outside the range of your phone’s Bluetooth. The tracker itself has no GPS, no SIM card, and no Internet connection, but it can still be tracked. How? Thanks to a little-known thing called Apple’s “Find My Network”. Apple iPhones and iPads can detect nearby AirTags, even if they don’t belong to the user. So, if you have an iPhone, if it wanders near to our AirTag, it will use the iPhone’s data connection and the phone GPS data to ping the location back to Apple. From my iPhone, I can then see where the Tag is, potentially anywhere in the world.

Today’s experiment is to post the Essex Ham £30 AirTag back to ourselves, to see how good this secret Apple tracking network actually is.

Video – Posting Our AirTag

Data Pings

  • 14:53 Tag posted in a jiggy bag in a post box on the A13 in Leigh-on-Sea
  • 15:02 First “ping” received – presumably someone with an iPhone walking past the post box
  • 15:29  Another ping from the postbox
  • 16:20 A ping from a different location – the site of another local postbox on the A13 in Leigh, 0.3 miles from posting
  • 16:58 A ping from a set of traffic lights near Belfairs Woods in Leigh, 1 mile from posting
  • 17:05 Tag detected on a main road 0.6 miles away, presumably heading to the Southend depot
  • 17:11 Tag detected at a post office in Leigh-on-Sea
  • 17:42 Tag arrived at the local Royal Mail depot in Southend
  • 18:22 Another ping showing it at the other end of the Southend depot
  • 19:07 On the move – detected on the A127 close to Rayleigh Wier. Presumably off to the regional sorting office
  • 19:50 Another ping. Looks like it’s arrived at the “Royal Mail South East Anglia Main Centre in Chelmsford, and is now 15 miles away from posting. Lots of subsequent pings implying that lots of postal workers there have iPhones
  • 03:40 Last ping from Chelmsford was from a loading bay
  • 04:27 It’s arrived at the Southend Short Street depot. Several pings every few minutes
  • 08:49 Last ping from the Southend depot
  • 09:03 Seen at a post office in Westcliff 0.2 miles from home. No comms for the last 30 mins though
  • 10:55 An alert that the tag is home… but it isn’t
  • 11:00 The tag’s home. Thanks postie.
Essex Ham AirTag arriving at local sorting office
17:42 Essex Ham’s AirTag arriving at the local Royal Mail depot office

The Tag spent the night at a large-looking sorting office in Chelmsford…

AirTag being sorted in Chelmsford
19:50 AirTag being sorted in Chelmsford

11:00 on Saturday – Tag’s back home safely, agter 18 hours and 50 minutes of travel.

What’s the point?

Curiosity really. Tracking requires that our envelope gets near to other people’s iPhones, and secretly uses that person’s phone location and data connection to tell us where our tag is.

Want to play with an Airtag? They’re £30 from Amazon – Airtag on Amazon

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