Tile thinks a $1 million fine will deter stalkers from using its trackers

Its new theft-prevention feature has heavy penalties for anyone caught using them criminally.

Nicole Lee / Engadget

Tile is giving its customers a new option to make its trackers harder for thieves to detect. But since doing so also makes it easier for stalkers to track others without their consent, the company requires verification with a government ID and biometric info to activate the feature. And if someone gets caught using them to stalk, Tile’s terms and conditions will slap them with a $1 million penalty.

The rise in popularity of Bluetooth trackers after Apple’s AirTag launch has highlighted the seemingly zero-sum balance between theft and stalking prevention. Stalking prevention measures, like emitting a sound when the tracker is following someone who isn’t its owner, can make it easier for thieves to recognize they’re being tracked (and quickly dispose of the accessory). But if you remove those protections to make theft deterrence more effective, creeps will have an easier time stalking their exes or anyone else unlucky enough to be their target.

“The bottom line is that a good locating device is also a good stalking device,” said Life360 (Tile’s parent company) CEO Chris Hulls in a Medium blog post on Wednesday. “It is almost impossible to fine-tune alerts in a way that balances the need for accuracy with timeliness. Likewise, it is nearly impossible to make notifications or alert sounds noticeable enough in any practical environment — it is often hard to hear an AirTag beep in a silent room let alone a bar or club where a stalker might be present.”

Tile’s solution tries to find the sweet spot. The Anti-Theft Mode feature will make the devices invisible to Scan and Secure, the company’s in-app feature that lets you know if any nearby Tiles are following you. But to activate the new Anti-Theft Mode, the Tile owner will have to verify their real identity with a government-issued ID, submit a biometric scan that helps root out fake IDs, agree to let Tile share their information with law enforcement and agree to be subject to a $1 million penalty if convicted in a court of law of using Tile for criminal activity. So although it technically makes the device easier for stalkers to use Tiles silently, it makes the penalty of doing so high enough to (at least in theory) deter them from trying.

A person’s left hand holding an Apple AirTag with a thumbs-up emoji laser-engraved onto it.
Apple AirTag (Chris Velazco / Engadget)

Hulls believes the approach is superior to Apple’s solution with AirTag, which emits a sound and notifies iPhone users that one of the trackers is following them. (Android users need to download a separate app to receive similar alerts.) “We did our own limited internal testing (view results here) to see how quickly AirTags would trigger an alert when following someone who was not their owner, and the results were disappointing,” said Hulls. The CEO says the company’s studies, using the latest AirTag software, show that tracked participants received their first “an AirTag is moving with you” alert within one to 24 hours of walking or driving — and sometimes not for several days.

Hull says Tile will “make public, to the greatest extent legally possible, all data about any instances of misuse of Tile devices that have been Anti-Theft enabled. Finally, while I am highly confident that the numbers will prove our thesis true, if we find we are wrong, we will reverse course and publicly acknowledge our mistake.”