Bluetooth trackers are a classic example of jerks stopping us from having nice things.
For decent people, they’re genius. Strap an AirTag or Tile to your luggage, keys or laptop and you’ll always be able to find it if its Bluetooth range. If you’re out of range, other phone users will anonymously start looking for it, alerting you with a location when they go near.
But stalkers quickly realised that this was a great way of tracking people with less effort, and Apple responded by making it so that iPhones are alerted if strangers’ AirTags appear to be nearby for an extended period.
The trouble with this approach (other than the fact it doesn’t work for stalking victims who use Android) is that it also means a thief nicking your bike will quickly realise if there’s an AirTag glued underneath the handlebars because of its well-meaning beeps.
It’s a catch-22: if Bluetooth trackers are noisy, they’re a gift to thieves, and if they’re silent, they’re ideal for stalkers. Meanwhile, for decent, law-abiding users they’re a bit flawed as a result.
That’s why Tile is taking a different approach, and it’s certainly eye catching. The company will let users disable Scan and Secure — the in-app feature that detects nearby Tiles — but only if they agree to some pretty extreme terms and conditions.
Not only do they have to submit a government-issued ID and biometric information, but they agree to be fined US$1 million (~NZ$1.6 million) if they’re convicted of stalking with a Tile when they pinky-promised not to.
It’s not really clear how enforceable fining for a breach of terms and conditions would be — and even less clear how many convicted stalkers have NS$1.6 million knocking about — but it does theoretically mean you have the best of both worlds. If you’re willing to give up a lot of liberties, that is.
What kind of liberties? Well, Tile says that users must also accept that the company will share personal information with law enforcement, “even without a subpoena” to assist with the “investigation and prosecution of suspected stalking”. So much for due process.
There’s also the small matter of these things only being a deterrent for the careless stalker. If Tiles are invisible to stalking victims, then what chances of police ever opening an investigation, let alone prosecuting and opening the door to Tile’s big-money fine?
The press release also doesn’t clarify whether the feature will be enabled outside of the United States, where laws may block further legal action against convicted stalkers. Or, indeed, what happens to any hypothetical fine money collected by the company.
Hopefully, we’ll never have to find out.