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Tracking Employees with AirTags: Why It Isn’t a Good Idea

Natasa Djalovic
Last update on:
February 19, 2024 1:19 PM
Published on:

An AirTag is a small, coin-sized tracking device developed by Apple. It's designed to help people keep track of personal items through Apple's “Find My” network. 

Using Bluetooth technology, an Apple AirTag can be attached to any item, such as keys, wallets, or gadgets, and its location can be tracked via the “Find My” app on Apple devices. 

The idea of tracking employees with AirTags may seem convenient, but it raises significant privacy and ethical concerns, along with potential legal complications for businesses.

This article explores the complexities associated with using AirTags for employee tracking and offers a more suitable alternative - using a GPS tracking app like Timeero for effective workforce management.

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Understanding AirTags and Employee Privacy

Undoubtedly helpful in personal asset tracking, AirTags effectively enlist millions of Apple users into a global surveillance network

It has been reported on online forums, including Reddit, that this network can be used for continuous and non-consensual employee monitoring. There are instances where employees have discovered hidden AirTags placed by their employers.

A striking example comes from a user who discovered an AirTag under the car seat in their work vehicle, registered to their boss's daughter's phone. 

reddit comment screenshot
Source: Reddit

Such incidents not only breach personal privacy but also underline the critical balance between necessary monitoring and the rights of employees.

Misusing tracking technology can have severe legal consequences, especially in regions with stringent privacy laws.

But before we discuss whether it’s legal to track employees with AirTags, we must understand how they function. 

How Do AirTags Work?

AirTags utilize Apple's “Find My” network, an extensive, encrypted, anonymous network comprising hundreds of millions of Apple devices. 

These devices use Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband technology and rely on the proximity of other Apple devices to transmit location data. 

  • Activation: To use the “Find My” network, an AirTag needs to be enabled with “Find My” and registered to an individual's Apple ID.
  • Tracking: When an item with an AirTag is misplaced, the owner can locate it using the “Find My” app, which displays its location on a map. The app also allows the user to play a sound on the AirTag's speaker to discover the AirTag's location.
  • Precision Finding: For nearby searches, “Find Nearby” with Precision Finding utilizes the camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope to point you to the AirTag’s direction. 
  • Lost Mode: The AirTag emits a continuous Bluetooth signal. Placing it in Lost Mode enables notifications when the network of Apple devices discovers it.
  • Privacy: The location of a missing AirTag is sent to iCloud by nearby devices, ensuring no location data or history is stored on the AirTag itself. This process is anonymous and encrypted to protect privacy.
  • Sharing: AirTags can be shared with friends or family members, allowing them to use “Find My” and Precision Finding without receiving tracking notifications.

What Are AirTag’s Safeguards to Prevent Unwanted Tracking?

For iPhone users running iOS 14.5 or later (if they have the correct settings enabled,) a notification is sent if an unknown AirTag moves with them over time. This feature is a significant aspect of AirTags’ design to prevent unwanted tracking.

The situation is different for Android users, as they do not receive these notifications automatically. To allow Android users to scan for an unknown AirTag nearby, Apple has designed an application called “Tracker Detect.” This functionality is limited as Tracker Detect only operates when the app is open.

A person alerted to an unknown AirTag nearby can trigger an audible chime to help find the device. Additionally, after three days, AirTags will play this chime randomly when separated from their original owner, serving as an additional safeguard.

Legal Implications of Using AirTags to Track Employees 

The legality of using AirTags to track employees varies by location. 

In the United States, state and federal laws and company policies play a significant role in determining permissible practices.

Employers must understand the legal landscapes to avoid significant fines and damaging legal battles. 

State Laws on Tracking Devices

Many states have enacted laws specifically addressing the use of tracking devices. For instance, New Jersey's Assembly Bill 1549 explicitly prohibits using a device to track anyone without their consent. 

Similarly, Ohio’s HB 672 restricts such practices but includes more detailed provisions and special exceptions. 

These examples illustrate that state laws can vary widely. Companies must know the specific legal requirements in each state where they operate.

Federal Laws and Company Policies

At the federal level, laws such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act may come into play when considering the unauthorized use of tracking devices. These laws can impose significant penalties for violations, emphasizing the need for legal compliance.

Additionally, the introduction of the Stop Spying Bosses Act in the Senate marks a significant step in regulating workplace surveillance. This bill, if passed, would require employers with more than 10 workers to disclose any workplace surveillance, including the nature of the data collected, its usage, and its impact on performance assessments. 

The Act aims to protect workers from undisclosed or misused surveillance data and will establish a new Privacy and Technology Division within the Department of Labor to supervise workforce surveillance requirements.

Companies must also align their tracking practices with their privacy policies. Failure to do so risks legal repercussions and damages trust and credibility with employees and the public.

Is It Legal to Track With AirTag?

Apple, the manufacturer of AirTags, has explicitly stated that it is illegal to use their product to track people without their consent. The device is intended for tracking belongings only.

The company has taken steps to remind iPhone users about the legal boundaries of using AirTags, warning them that such a practice is a crime in many regions worldwide. 

The Limitations of AirTags for Employee Tracking

Despite their affordable pricing and even with full disclosure and employee consent, it’s not very efficient to track employees with AirTags. 

Listed below are some crucial limitations:

  • Scalability Issues. AirTags are ideal for locating personal items but not for tracking a large workforce. In a business scenario, like a construction company with many employees across various sites, AirTags cannot handle the logistical complexity required for effective workforce management.
  • Lack of Performance Insight. AirTags provide location data but no insight into employee performance. For a sales team, assessing client interactions and conversions is essential, yet AirTags offer no capability to track these performance indicators.
  • Safety Monitoring Limitations. In sectors where safety is paramount, like manufacturing or construction, AirTags fall short. They cannot indicate whether employees are adhering to safety protocols or wearing necessary gear, a critical oversight in high-risk environments like chemical plants.
  • Inability to Track Compliance. Compliance with company policies and legal regulations is non-negotiable, especially in sensitive areas like healthcare. AirTags lack the ability to monitor or ensure adherence to such important standards, such as patient privacy in healthcare settings.

GPS Tracker Apps vs. AirTags for Employee Tracking

For employee tracking, GPS tracking apps are the best alternative for AirTags. Let’s highlight key differences in their application for employee monitoring:

comparison table
  • Purpose and Design. AirTags lack features crucial for employee monitoring. GPS tracker apps are specifically created for workforce management, offering a range of functionalities suited to this purpose.

  • Data Insights. While AirTags provide location information, the best GPS tracking apps offer comprehensive data insights, including time tracking, route history, and performance analytics, essential for managing a workforce.

  • Scalability. AirTags are not scalable for monitoring a large workforce, whereas GPS tracker apps are designed to handle multiple employees across various locations efficiently.

  • Legal and Ethical Considerations. GPS tracker apps are generally more aligned with legal and ethical standards for employee monitoring, providing transparency and consent options that are not intrinsic to AirTags.

Why Timeero is the Ideal Choice to Track Employees Compared to AirTags

Timeero is a GPS tracker built with the purpose of helping you monitor and manage remote employees or those working on different job sites, making it a more suitable choice for businesses.

Comprehensive Tracking Capabilities

Timeero allows tracking of employees' clock-in and clock-out times, locations, routes, and distances traveled. This goes beyond the basic location tracking offered by AirTags, providing an overview of an employee's workday.

timeero mobile tracker
Using Timeero mobile app, you can track employees’  time, locations and mileage.

Real-Time Monitoring

Employers can view their team’s location and activities in real time. This feature is crucial for businesses like field services, construction, and home healthcare, where knowing the exact whereabouts of employees is essential for operational efficiency.

timeero who's working
Get a real-time overview of your employees’ whereabouts while they’re on the clock.

Enhanced Job and Resource Management

 With Timeero, employers can create, assign, and manage jobs easily. Setting up geofences, alerts, and approvals also improves accountability and safety, which is not feasible with AirTags.

timeero geofence clock in restriction
Timeero grants additional features for employee tracking and monitoring.

Accurate Data for Payroll and Compliance

Timeero generates precise timesheets and reports based on GPS data, integrating with tools like QuickBooks and ADP. This accuracy is vital for payroll processing and tax deductions, areas where AirTags fall short.

timeero integrations
You can streamline payroll and mileage reimbursement processes.

Offline Functionality

Timeero’s GPS time clock works even without an internet connection, capturing data to synchronize later. This reliability ensures continuous tracking, unlike AirTags, which rely on proximity to other Apple devices.

Customizable Breaks and Overtime Compliance Features

Timeero allows customization of overtime and break rules and is equipped with features like the California Breaks Tracker to ensure compliance with state-specific labor laws, something AirTags cannot offer.

timeero overime settings
Customize Timeero according to your business needs.

Mileage Tracking

For businesses with employees who drive as part of their work, Timeero accurately tracks mileage, providing data for fair compensation and tax deductions.

timeero mobile timesheet and route
Get accurate data for mileage reimbursement.

Segmented Tracking for Multi-Site Operations

Timeero’s Segmented Tracking feature is ideal for employees visiting multiple sites in a day, providing detailed information on travel segments and time spent at each location.

timeero segmented tracking
Easily see how your employee spent their workday.

Efficient Employee Scheduling and Time Off Management

Timeero simplifies employee scheduling and time off requests, allowing smooth operation and preventing scheduling conflicts.

timeero mobile scheduling
You can use Timeero to schedule your employees.

Compliance with GPS Tracking Laws

As it does not track employees off the clock, Timeero is compliant with even the strictest GPS tracking laws, such as the one in California. By clocking in through the app, employees give their consent for tracking. This feature guarantees compliance with legal requirements and employee privacy regulations.

Enforcement of GPS Tracking Policy

With Timeero, companies can implement and enforce a clear GPS tracking policy. This policy outlines when and how employee tracking occurs, ensuring transparency and compliance with legal standards.

Timeero offers features that go beyond the basic location tracking of AirTags, including real-time monitoring, customizable settings, and seamless payroll integration. For businesses aiming to responsibly and effectively track their workforce, Timeero respects both employee privacy and organizational efficiency, making it the optimal choice over AirTags.

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AUTHOR
Natasa Djalovic

Natasa is a writer specializing in the IT and software industry with 6+ years of experience in content writing and online marketing. During that period, she wrote more than 1,000 articles and several ebooks. She majored in English language and literature and loves cats, sneakers, and candy. When she's not working, she's probably binge-watching Netflix.

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