Among my many gadgets I have a Faraday Bag. Faraday bags are essentially a flexible version of a faraday cage. Such devices contain metalic content and prevent the passage of radio signals. You have probably seen various applications of this, such as wallets or envelops designed to prevent an NFC credit card from being read, or the metalic grid in the door of a Microwave oven that prevents the microwave radiation from getting out.
I won’t get into the physics of how these work. But it is worth noting that a Faraday cage may only work for a range frequencies. A cage that prevents one device from getting a signal might not have the same effect on another that uses a different frequency. While I’ve seen that my Faraday Bag has successfully blocked WiFi and cellular signals from reaching my phone and tablet, I wanted to see if it would work with an AirTag. For those unfamiliar, the AirTag is Apple’s implementation of a Bluetooth tracking device. Another well known Bluetooth tracker is from Tile. The fundamentals of how these devices work is essentially the same.
The trackers are low-energy Bluetooth devices. If the tracker is near your phone, the phone detects the signal and the ID unique to the tracker. The phone takes notice where it was located when it looses signal to the tracker and generally assumes that the tracker is in the last place that it was when it received a signal. That isn’t always the case. The tracker my have been moved after the phone lost the signal (think of a device left in a taxi). The next method of locating that these devices use is that other people’s phones may see the tracker and relay the position. For the Tile devices anyone else that has the Tile app on their phone effectively participates in relaying the position of tiles that they encounter. For the AirTag anyone with a fairly recent iPhone and Firmware participates. My expectation is that that the ubiquity of the iPhone will make it the location network with more coverage. As a test, I gave an AirTag to a wiling participant and asked that they keep the device for a day. When I checked in on the location of the Device using the “Find My” app on the iPhone, I could see the person’s movements. On a commute to work, other iPhones that the person drove by on the Interstate reported the position. I could see the person’s location within a few minutes of them arriving at work.
There are some obvious privacy concerns with these devices. Primarily from an unwilling party having an AirTag put in their belongings. Apple is working on some solutions for some of the security concerns, though others remain. I thought about someone transporting a device with an AirTag that may not want their location located. One way to do this is to remove the battery. Another is to block the signal. Since I already have a Faraday Bag I decided to test out this second method.
I found that my Faraday Bag successfully blocks the AirTag from being detected or from receiving a signal. You can see the test in the above video. This addresses one of the concern for such trackers, though not all of them. This is great for an AirTag that one is knowingly transporting. For one that a person doesn’t realize is in their belongings, a method of detection is needed. For iPhone users, the iPhone is reported to alert a user if there is an AirTag that stays within their proximity that is not their own. Results from others testing this have been a bit mixed. The AirTags are also reportedly going to play an alert sound if they arenot within range of their owner for some random interval between 8 and 24 hours.
Presently, Android users would not get a warning. Though Apple is said to be working on an application for Android for detecting lingering AirTags. In the absence of such an application, I’ve tried using Bluetooth scanners on Android. The Airtag is successfully detected. The vendor (Apple) can be retrieved from the AirTag, but no other information is retrievable. I’ve got some ideas on how to specifically identify an AirTag within code for Android, but need to do more testing to validate this. This is something that I plan to return to later on.
I purchased this Faraday Bag some time ago. The specific bag that I have is, from what I have found, no longer available. But other comparable bags are available on Amazon.
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Faraday Bag for Tablets and Phones.