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ALERT: New way to steal important instruments


Dimitri Musafia
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When Joanna Stern of the WSJ published a comparison of the qualities between Bluetooth locators, it became clear that these devices could be helpful in tracking lost or stolen instruments. I published an article to this effect in the journal of the A.L.I. (Italian Association of Lutherie) earlier this year.

Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, it wasn't long before the locators became trackers in the worst sense of the term. Here is a recent article in the NYT where these trackers have been used not only to stalk people but also their expensive goods: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/30/technology/apple-airtags-tracking-stalking.html

All it takes is someone to slip one of these miniscule trackers inside your case, and it will pinpoint its position for months - and for the first opportunity to steal it. So, just a heads up, this is real.

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30 minutes ago, FiddleDoug said:

Bluetooth usually only has a range of about 10M. I'm not sure how useful that would be for tracking. I did a quick search and it appears that the longest range bluetooth tracker has a range of about 400 ft., but that would depend on building walls, etc..

As I understand it, the person wanting to track the device does not need to be within that limited range. Any time a cell phone with the program installed comes within that range, it will repeat the location to the one who is trying to track it, anywhere in the world.

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6 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

As I understand it, the person wanting to track the device does not need to be within that limited range. Any time a cell phone with the program installed comes within that range, it will repeat the location to the one who is trying to track it, anywhere in the world.

Exactly, David. And iPhones are ubiquitous. For those who don't get it, READ THE ARTICLE.

I'm just providing a public service here, and for the record i have a Samsung.

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1 hour ago, Dimitri Musafia said:

Exactly, David. And iPhones are ubiquitous. For those who don't get it, READ THE ARTICLE.

I'm just providing a public service here, and for the record i have a Samsung.

Would like to read the article but when I click the link they want me to subscribe to something. Wazzup?

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Here are some excerpts, the boldface is mine:

On a Sunday night in September, Ashley Estrada was at a friend’s home in Los Angeles when she received a strange notification on her iPhone: “AirTag Detected Near You.”

An AirTag is a 1.26-inch disc with location-tracking capabilities that Apple started selling earlier this year as a way “to keep track of your stuff.” Ms. Estrada, 24, didn’t own one, nor did the friends she was with. The notification on her phone said the AirTag had first been spotted with her four hours earlier. A map of the AirTag’s history showed the zigzag path Ms. Estrada had driven across the city while running errands.

Ms. Estrada is not alone in her experience. In recent months, people have posted on TikTok, Reddit and Twitter about finding AirTags on their cars and in their belongings. There is growing concern that the devices may be abetting a new form of stalking, which privacy groups predicted could happen when Apple introduced the devices in April.

In Canada, a local police department said that it had investigated five incidents of thieves placing AirTags on “high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them.”

(this where the danger lies with high-end instruments inside their cases)

Apple automatically turned every iOS device into part of the network that AirTags use to report the location of an AirTag,” Ms. Galperin said. “The network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”

After a Friday night out with her boyfriend this month, Erika Torres, a graduate music student in New Orleans, was notified by her iPhone that an “unknown accessory” had been detected near her over a two-hour period, moving with her from a bar to her home.

She called the police and she called Apple, but she never found an AirTag. An Apple representative told her other devices could set off the alert, including AirPods. When Ms. Torres posted a video about her experience to YouTube, a dozen people commented about it happening to them. “The number of reports makes me think there must be some sort of glitch that is causing all these people to experience this,” Ms. Torres said. “I hope they’re not all being stalked.”

Ms. Estrada, who got the notification while in Los Angeles, eventually found the quarter-sized tracker lodged in a space behind the license plate of her 2020 Dodge Charger. She posted a video of her ordeal on TikTok, which went viral.

Another woman was notified by her iPhone that she was being tracked by an “unknown accessory” after leaving her gym in November. When she got home, she called the police.

The woman, Michaela Clough of Corning, Calif., was told that a report could only be filed if someone showed up at her home and that Apple’s notifications were not enough proof that she was being stalked. She later got in touch with an Apple customer service representative who was able to disconnect the device from Ms. Clough’s iPhone. The device was never found.

Jahna Maramba rented a vehicle from the car-sharing service Turo last month in Los Angeles, then received a notification about an unknown AirTag near her on a Saturday night with her girlfriends.

She took the vehicle to her friend’s parking garage where she searched the outside of the car for an hour before its owner notified her that he had placed the device inside the vehicle. Ms. Maramba had been driving the car for two days.

Internet-connected devices, designed for easy monitoring for consumer convenience, are being turned into spying tools.

(Copyright New York Times; consultable in today's print edition as well as online)

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Thanks for posting the article. Like others, I was unable to read the original article. This isn't like your plain old wifi tracker!  It seems that the Apple Air Pod is the big problem, and we need to push Apple to fix this, and make it impossible for nefarious people to use them for this purpose!

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14 hours ago, Dimitri Musafia said:

Here are some excerpts, the boldface is mine:

.....


(Copyright New York Times; consultable in today's print edition as well as online)

So in order to warn people of theft of violins you are willing to steal from the New York Times?

 

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8 hours ago, rudall said:

So in order to warn people of theft of violins you are willing to steal from the New York Times?

 

I actually thought about this before posting. But a) I stole nothing, since I pay for my subscription, b) I condensed the article and removed the photos, so it's not a reproduction but a quote, c) the content is already all over social media, d) I indicated where the original full article can be found, e) I credited the source.

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11 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

You can also use your own AirTags to help prevent your instrument from being stolen by hiding one in your case to alert you of its location.

Maybe you could build a secret location made for hiding AirTags in your cases, @Dimitri Musafia. It could be custom for different cases, and only disclosed to the buyer.

Today, the three Bluetooth trackers most popular on the market are: Tile (who invented the system, and was financed with a crowd funding), Samsung’s Smart Tag, and Apple’s AirTag. These devices cost as much as a lunch in trattoria, they do not require any subscription, they are as small as half of a key fob, and the battery life is up to a year. If they are put inside of a violin case, they are easily hidden.

Tile uses a network consisting in other Tile users: if something containing a Tile is lost or stolen, it is possible to report the object as “missing” to the network and as soon as it enters the range of another Tile user, its location is automatically (and anonymously) reported on the dedicated app. The main flaw is in this: although 35 million Tiles have been sold so far in 195 nations, the coverage is anything but complete, and the effective range remains that of the Bluetooth signal, 100 meters at the most (Tile model Pro). Depending on the location, days or months can go by before another Tile user happens to be nearby, being able to send the localization signal.

Samsung’s Smart Tag and Apple’s AirTag get an advantage over Tile, such as being able to count on the vast network of millions of smart phones of those brands. However, Samsung’s smart phone will suggest to close the app – if it is installed on it – when it is not used in order to save the battery, a thing that many people will do, lowering the number of other users who can signal the position of the object. Apple’s Air Tag is way better, because it works with any recent iPhone even if the app is not installed.

In a practical test made by the Wall Street Journal, a bag (entrusted to thirds party) “abandoned” in a street corner in Manhattan was localized in 4 minutes with AirTag, while Tile and Smart Tag found it only much later.

Therefore, is AirTag the perfect solution to follow a stolen violin case? No, it isn’t. In order that the device is not used to illegally follow people (stalking), Apple had to set some boundaries. If the thief who steals your instrument owns an iPhone with iOS 14.5 or superior, a message will appear on his phone telling that there is someone else’s AirTag in close proximity. After 72 hours that the iPhone is far from the device associated to it, it will ring, characteristics which soon also Tile and Smart Tag will have.

Today, new generation GPS trackers are available, such as the LandAirSea 54. It is produced in the USA, it works worldwide thanks to the 4G LTE technology, its battery life is up to six months and it is more or less as big as a package of rosin (and can be easily camouflaged as one), probably it is the best on the market together with the GeoForce GT0. The only limitations are the cost (one must make a monthly subscription, which is actually not too expensive) and the typical limits of the GPS itself, such as the black-out inside of the buildings because the GPS signal requires a mostly open sky.

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