Stalking Victims Bring Class Action Lawsuit Against Apple Over AirTags

On Monday, December 5, 2022, two plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against Apple related to Apple’s AirTag in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. The two plaintiffs have suffered stalking and harassment enabled by the use of Apple’s location-based tracking product.

Apple introduced the Apple AirTag in April 2021. The AirTag “is roughly the size of a quarter, and its sole purpose is to transmit its location to its owner.” The AirTag costs $29 and works by emitting signals detected by Bluetooth sensors on other Apple products. These sensors make up Apple’s “FindMy” network. “When a device on the network detects a signal from the missing device, it reports that missing device’s location back to Apple, which in turn reports it to the owner.” Since the AirTag released, “reports have proliferated of people finding AirTags placed in their purses, in or on their cars, and even sewn into the lining of their clothes, by stalkers in order to track their whereabouts.”

Plaintiff Lauren Hughes started being stalked online in late August 2021 after a three-month relationship ended. Hughes’s stalker “began by making abusive posts on various social media accounts, as well as using fake accounts to try to follow Plaintiff Hughes’s own, private social media accounts.” The stalker proceeded to call Hughes from blocked numbers and began leaving threatening voicemails. After being ignored by Hughes, the stalker posted screenshots of text message conversations to Twitter. The stalker eventually escalated his behavior by leaving objects at Hughes’s residence. Hughes moved from her residence to a hotel in October 2021, fearing for her safety. After her move, “she received a notification on her iPhone that an unknown AirTag was traveling in her vicinity.” Hughes found an AirTag in the wheel well of her rear passenger tire of her car. She took the AirTag to an Apple Store and was told by employees that they could not tell how long the AirTag had been on her car. Hughes moved again but, in March 2022, her stalker posted a picture of a taco truck in her new neighborhood, “including hashtags referencing streets in [Huhghes’s] new neighborhood, and including a winking emoji with a separate hashtag ‘#airt2.0.'”

Plaintiff Jane Doe is engaged in a contentious divorce with her former spouse who engages in “paradigmatically abusive behavior.” In the summer of 2022, Doe was confronted by her former spouse “about where she went and when, particularly when she was with the couple’s child.” She found an AirTag in her child’s backpack. Doe attempted to disable the AirTag, “but another one soon showed up in its place.” Doe attempted to use the Tracker Detect app to find any other hidden AirTags but, due to living in a densely populated area, the app detected multiple AirTags nearby. Doe was unable to “confirm or deny whether a specific AirTag was being placed in her child’s effects by her estranged spouse.”

The complaint brings the class action on behalf of the following classes: (1) the iOS stalked class; (2) the Android stalked class; (3) the iOS at-risk-of-stalking class; (4) the Android at-risk-of-stalking class; (5) the multistate sub-class; and (6) the New York sub-class. Some of the common questions of law or fact include: (1) “Whether Apple’s acts and practices. . . amount to the use of an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person;” (2) “Whether AirTags are ‘electronic tracking devices;'” (3) “Whether Apple’s acts and practices complained of. . . amount to egregious breaches of social norms;” (4) “Whether Apple acted intentionally in violating Plaintiffs’ and Class members’ privacy rights;” (5) “Whether an injunction should issue;” and (6) “Whether declaratory relief should be granted.”

The complaint¬† brings causes of action for (1) negligence; (2) strict liability as to a design defect under the consumer expectation test; (3) strict liability as to a design defect under the risk-benefit test; (4) unjust enrichment; (5) intrusion upon seclusion; (6) violations of the California constitutional right to privacy; (7) violations of the Children’s Internet Protection Act; (8) negligence per se; (9) violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law’s unlawful prong; (10) violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law’s unfair prong; (11) violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law’s fraudulent prong; and (12) violations of New York General Business Law section 349 (deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any business, trade, or commerce).

The complaint seeks relief in the form of (1) a judgment against Apple; (2) injunctive, declaratory, and other equitable relief “enjoining Apple from further unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent practices with respect to the design, manufacture, and release into the market of its AirTags;” (3) an award of actual, nominal, statutory, and/or punitive damages; (4) attorney’s fees and costs; and (5) other relief as may be appropriate.

Additional Reading

2 women are suing Apple alleging that former partners hid AirTags in a car and a child’s backpack and used the devices to stalk them, Insider (December 6, 2022)

Hughes et al v. Apple, Inc. (Case No. 5:2022cv07668)

Complaint in Hughes et al v. Apple, Inc.

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