Apple designed the AirTag to find your personal belongings, not to hunt thieves. Still, there are plenty of people who want to attach the AirTag to a bicycle or other object as a sort of anti-theft tracker. Is that possible? And what should you take into account?
# 1 Hide the AirTag properly
If you want to use the AirTag to keep an eye on your bicycle or another object, it is important to hide the AirTag well. With a VanMoof bicycle, the sensor is invisibly built into the bar, but if you have another bicycle and you want to use an AirTag, you will have to hide it well. If someone sees the AirTag hanging, the first thing a thief will do is take out and discard the AirTag, or remove the battery so that the item cannot be tracked.
With a bicycle you could hide the AirTag under the saddle or in a bicycle bag. With a backpack you can put the AirTag in an inconspicuous compartment, but you could even remove the stitching to hide the AirTag invisibly behind the lining. With a suitcase you can often unzip the inner lining and stick the AirTag somewhere.
You shouldn’t use Apple’s pendants, because they are very eye-catching and very pricey, making them worth stealing in themselves.
# 2 Notify if your item is moving
Since Apple has not designed the AirTag as an anti-theft tracker, there are some limitations to its use in theft. If you attach your tracker to your bike, you will not receive a notification if someone is fiddling with your bike or rides on it.
Many people are concerned that the thief will immediately receive a notification that an AirTag is moving. But that is not the case. This can only happen after some time. Apple has indicated that an AirTag will make a beep sound after three days if the owner is not around.
In a theft situation this may be inconvenient, because in this way the thief is alerted to the fact that an AirTag is present. However, you can’t blame Apple: the anti-stalking notifications collide with the fact that someone wants to use the AirTag for theft.
So you only have the opportunity to find the stolen AirTag for a short time. How quickly the thief will be warned in the event of stalking is something that Apple is not clear about. In any case, after about three days you can expect the AirTag to play a sound to indicate that it is not with the owner. The thief can then throw away or disable the AirTag. If the thief is an iPhone user, there is also the option to disable the AirTag via a notification on the screen
As you can see, this is not in the owner’s interest, but these are the anti-stalking measures that Apple has opted for.
# 3 What if my AirTag is stolen?
Whether or not a bicycle or bag is attached to it: if your AirTag is stolen, you will not immediately receive a notification. You will only notice when you want to use the object and notice that it is gone. In that case you can look on the map where the AirTag was last seen. This can sometimes have some delay, but if the AirTag is in a place where many Apple users are walking around, you can count on receiving a location regularly.
You could mark the AirTag as lost so that an honest finder can contact you. But with a thief, that chance is not that great.
If the bicycle or bag has been left somewhere, you can possibly search for yourself. If not, you will have to call the police. Based on the AirTag serial number you can prove that the tracker is yours (and possibly also the bike or bag that is attached to it). You can also prove that the AirTag is yours by playing an alarm sound, because only the owner is able to play a sound.
# 4 A stolen AirTag is unusable
We also regularly get asked what happens if someone pulls the AirTag from your bag. Especially with the bag hangers, the construction is not very sturdy and a good tug on the hanger is enough to steal the AirTag.
However, it is of no use to a thief. The pendant is broken and the AirTag cannot be used. This is linked to your Apple ID and cannot simply be reset and used by someone else. The thief can only use the AirTag for parts, for example a less scratched stainless steel side.
Conclusion: AirTag less suitable as an anti-theft method
As we said at the outset, the AirTag is not designed as some sort of security system or as an anti-theft tracker. If you want to use it that way, you may run into some limitations and inconveniences that are more in the thief’s interest than in yours. That’s because Apple has built in anti-stalking features that sometimes clash with your plans to use the AirTag for theft.
In that case you might be better off with a Tile, where you (as a Premium subscriber) can receive a notification if an item is outside your Bluetooth range. If the bike is close to the window or the bag is always close by, this can work well. You will then receive a notification when the item moves away from you.
Whether you can blame Apple that the AirTag is not intended for theft is an interesting question. Apple likes to look on the bright side and is more likely to focus on positive themes such as privacy and security than theft. If most people are not waiting for the features of the AirTag, it will be evident from the sales figures soon enough.