Bluetooth tracker company Tile is launching a new security measure that will, it promises, render its devices effectively invisible to stalkers, thieves, and any other bad actors.
Called Anti-Theft Mode, it works by making the company’s trackers “undetectable by Scan and Secure”, a feature on Tile’s own app that allows iOS and Android users to “detect nearby Tiles”. With this new mode, the only person who knows where their device is at all times is the Tile owner.
Scan and Secure was originally supposed to help people find lost or misplaced items. But then people began misusing other Bluetooth trackers, like Apple AirTags, to stalk people. So Tile created the feature in response to the misuse as well as a recent uptick in robbery rates. The idea behind the latter is you’ll be able to more easily “recover stolen valuables by making it harder for thieves to know an item is being tracked”, according to the announcement.
Rollout of Anti-Theft Mode begins today and will be available to all users within the coming weeks. However to use the feature, you’ll have to go through a rather rigorous verification process.
Prior to activating Anti-Theft Mode, Tile will ask users to register a government-issued ID to their account and submit a biometric scan to confirm their identity. Users will also have to accept the new terms of service allowing the company to give up their information to authorities if they’re caught misusing the trackers for stalking. This is done at Tile’s discretion as it will help with any ongoing investigations, all without a subpoena. On top of that, the company states it will fine people convicted of using its trackers to stalk people $1 million.
Tile is taking a pretty aggressive approach in making sure no one misuses its trackers for nefarious means. The company states it is taking “a highly collaborative stance with law enforcement” and is adopting these proactive measures as a way to deter bad actors. It even criticizes Apple’s recent anti-stalking update for its AirTags by calling it “insufficient for victim protection." For those who don't know, iPhones will send out a notification telling users if an unknown AirTag has been detected on their person. The AirTag will also begin to emit a loud noise so you can find it.
We have many questions regarding Anti-Theft Mode.
As TechCrunch points out, Tile’s “highly collaborative” position with authorities is pretty questionable. It’s unknown if the company will be fully adhering to due process. It is, after all, willing to give up user information to the police without a subpoena or even a court order. Also, how can it “fine” a convicted individual $1 million, and why that amount? We assume this is a lawsuit of sorts and not a literal fine from the government.
It's understandable why Tile would want to protect its user base, but suing people $1 million for breaking the terms of service is a little extreme. We reached out to a company representative for clarification on these two questions and more. This story will be updated at a later time if we hear back.
If you’re in the market for cybersecurity services with a less aggressive approach, be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the best privacy tools for 2023.
Update 2-17-2023: A company representative told us the $1 million lawsuit is a part of Tile's approach to deter stalkers. They claim the company "has learned that increasing penalties and removing anonymity is a key driver of deterring stalking."
When asked if Tile thinks it can win those lawsuits, the company is apparently willing to take on the challenge because "there are so few cases of stalking reported" using the trackers; however expensive it may be.
As for sharing user data with law enforcement, the representative states Tile will only do so "for cases of suspected stalking". Other than that the company "will fight tooth and nail to protect user information" so long as you follow the rules.
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Cesar Cadenas has been writing about the tech industry for several years now specializing in consumer electronics, entertainment devices, Windows, and the gaming industry. But he’s also passionate about smartphones, GPUs, and cybersecurity.