Fines as a Security System

Tile has an interesting security solution to make its tracking tags harder to use for stalking:

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.

Interesting theory. But it won’t work against attackers who don’t have any money.

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.

My complaint about the technical solutions is that they only work for users of the system. Tile security requires an “in-app feature.” Apple’s AirTag “notifies iPhone users.” What we need is a common standard that is implemented on all smartphones, so that people who don’t use the trackers can be alerted if they are being surveilled by one of them.

Posted on February 20, 2023 at 7:09 AM19 Comments


Joel Stobart February 20, 2023 8:14 AM

My bigger problem is with the “conviction”. Domestic Abuse victims who face this kind of problem already can’t bring themselves (for entirely understandable reasons) to take their abusers to court for physical violence. They will not get their partners convicted for “leaving” a “stray” tile on someone.

YG February 20, 2023 8:38 AM

As a lawyer in the UK, I’d like to see more detail on the conditions, but I very much wonder whether that “fine” would be enforceable under the UK law in penalty clauses in contracts. At the very least I’d regard it as questionable.

Q February 20, 2023 9:51 AM

It places all the trust into a single company, and all of the employees that work there.

The user/customers have no say in how it operates, or any control over the devices. They just have to trust company in all matters.

Just say no to anything that requires blind trust in an external entity whose real motive is profit. They aren’t doing it to help you, no matter how much they claim that.

Steve Szmidt February 20, 2023 10:34 AM

The liability with computers making such decision and making life more trouble for innocent people is they lack judgment and rely on code. To some degree AI is worse as it creates the illusion of intelligence but is not much more than an amalgam of data.

What if the “tracker” is going to same location, regularly?

For example, as a tourist you don’t follow the normal activities of the locals and can easily end up behaving suspiciously in the eyes of locals, never mind some computer code.

To the degree you depend on automation to that degree you are not using your own senses. I rely on situational awareness, which is far more valuable to me. Though not everyone seem to be able to pay attention to their environment. But I think it would be more enumerative to learn how.

All these issues we have with illegal activities is a systemic failure in raising children in a sane fashion where they win when being good decent people. If everyone could earn a fair living and food security was available to all crime would drop significantly.

Of course that is not about to change anytime soon, I’m just trying to go to basics and look from that viewpoint rather than dreaming up a new automated solution to every situations in life.

For example, in Rome there were no juvenile delinquency as they were able to start their lives at an early age. They could work and start a family of their own instead hanging out on street corners looking for something interesting to do. Of course society was very different and so on, but there’s something to be said to be able to create your life early on.

Ted February 20, 2023 10:48 AM

It looks like the CEO of Tile was adding his thoughts to a similar article on Hacker News. I guess it’s really him. In further comments he adds a link to a blog post.

Life360/Tile CEO. I came up with this idea, not our lawyers, as they would be the first to say it is unclear how enforceable this is. But what IS clear, is that based on our new TOS, and because this is opt-in, we definitely could take a flyer in court, and who knows?

Do you want us to unleash millions of dollars of lawyers on you? I don’t think many people will want to find out. I genuinely believe this plus a ID scanning will be a huge deterrent. Stalkers will go buy $30 real time stealth GPS trackers on Amazon instead.

John Tillotson February 20, 2023 12:16 PM

How about: Make it illegal to make/import/trade/sell such “tracking devices” unless they automatically and without exception send a standard response to a standard query over bluetooth or another wireless protocol on a smartphone. This could be written into law, and anyone could make an app or device that could send the standard query and receive the specified response to identify any such tracker nearby.

IEEE could write the appropriate documentation, and any dev could write apps for the smartphone to send and receive the traffic. That way you’re not depending on the goodwill of anyone: (1) Any maker of such devices is constrained by law and financial penalties which need no goodwill to force compliance. (2) Since any dev can make the appropriate app, you are not constrained to the goodwill of a single dev.

iAPX February 20, 2023 1:12 PM

Tile position is hilarious.

As if teens could not have access fake ID, so “ID” in itself is of no value (except for law enforcement officers) if teens could break that.
Or as it is online, use the real ID of someone else.
Anyway, Tile could not legally check these ID nor run a background check on them.

Tile could also pretend they will sue for 1 millions dollars, and it’s true, they might try to sue for that money, but I doubt it will get to court, and even so they might get nothing or worse being considered as accomplice.
For me they are accomplice, as they know their “tiles” will be used for this evil purpose. They know and still they sell it.

What Tile is doing is pretending to make it legally protected and enforced something that is illegal and criminal: offers way to stalk over people.
Apple is not really great on that too.
This could backfire at some point, with a high-level victim stalked through one or the other, and answers could not be “they have to send us their real ID”, “sorry we could not check the ID”, nor “the victim should have used an iPhone”…

This is absolutely crap!

Freida Rose February 20, 2023 6:30 PM

Do you want us to unleash millions of dollars of lawyers on you? I don’t think many people will want to find out.

I certainly wouldn’t want to find out, and this would stop me from using the product entirely. I wouldn’t plan to be “using Tile for criminal activity”, but bullshit convictions happen. Or maybe I get convicted of some minor crime while carrying a tag, like if I was using a tag to track a hard drive and its data was found to infringe copyright.

Well, the point’s moot because I’m sure as hell not going to send the company scans of identification documents—let’s all meet back here in a year or two when those leak, okay?—but if they didn’t have that requirement, I’d still be too risk-averse to take the chance of a fine. I already don’t use many web services because of broad indemnification requirements being common, and years ago chose not to do business with a local ISP because their agreement gave them the power to fine me if I breached it (worse, that was “in [their] sole opinion”).

Marmot February 20, 2023 8:01 PM

This won’t be effective – first, it’s a contract, not a fine. So if you breach the contract, it’s failure to pay, and damages will be limited to those actually incurred by Tile.

More importantly, criminals don’t care. Just like they don’t care about gun laws when they’re going to commit a much more serious crime, they won’t care about a contractual fine if they’re going to commit a much more serious stalking crime.

BCS February 20, 2023 9:37 PM

Any solution that requires the potential victim to have access to something (i.e. a phone) won’t work as a general solution.

I’m not sure what “solutions” that leaves as viable.

Clive Robinson February 20, 2023 10:12 PM

@ Bruce, ALL,

“What we need is a common standard that is implemented on all smartphones, so that people who don’t use the trackers can be alerted if they are being surveilled by one of them.”

Be very carefull what you wish for.

Such a “common standard” will almost certainly be designed with “room for growth”. Or worse it could become an Open Standard for all “trackers to use” thus become “common carrier”… At which point “home made or modified” trackers will appear in some online article.

Thus setting up your own independent tracker system will become easier than the old way… Back when some did and some currently still do build their own[1] tracking devices. Back before Apple gave modern tags their “evil image”.

Oh and you probably can still buy such cellular service devices from China for a few bucks via one of the less reputable online outlets.

[1] People were being tracked by private investigators and worse prior to tiles/tags appearing on the market. You can make a tracker by repackaging a realy inexpensive non smartphone and gluing a magnet on it so you can hang it off the back bumper etc. The hard part is getting the tracking data from it without the battery going flat. One way is to install a comercial phone tracker app as some parents surreptitiously do with their childrens phones, another is develop your own application to do the same. There is also the option to develop a little bit of hardware that replaces the keyboard and sends out timed SMS with GPS coordinates. Not difficult for many readers here but above the abilities of most “free with their fists” types etc.

Dave February 20, 2023 11:19 PM

Tile position is hilarious.

Yup. To see how ridiculous it is, this is something that’s almost undetectable, so the chances of getting caught are very low, and that people are already breaking the law to do. How will vague threats about “a fine” deter anyone who’s already breaking the law and who’s fairly certain, with justification, that they won’t get caught? As the CEO points out, this crazy idea didn’t come from lawyers because if they’d been involved they would have told them to drop the idea like week-old garbage.

Some years ago, commenting on attempts to pass a law to make it extra criminal to commit a crime when a computer was also involved, someone said “this is like passing a law making it mandatory to wear a coat and tie to a bank robbery”. The deterrent effect will be close to zero, if not actively amusing for the perpetrators.

TrackerOwner February 21, 2023 6:53 AM

so that people who don’t use the trackers can be alerted if they are being surveilled by one of them.

So you want a simple measure for the guy who stole my motorcycle to know that he is “being surveilled by one of them.”?
I do understand that stealing is a difficult job, and leaving the motorcycle in a hidden place for few days to check if it can be localised by the real owner, and if not, there is no risk in proceeding further with that motorcycle.

iAPX February 21, 2023 6:54 AM

@Clive Robinson, All

There’s another way to exploit an old smartphone, to have the position relayed while not detectable, and I find it very funny!

If the target use an iPhone, you could use a fully charged old iPhone put on the “off” mode where the “Find My” has been enabled.
Great autonomy, probably a full month!

The fun part is each time the target will be at proximity, its own iPhone will transmit its position to the stalker or criminal through Apple services!
The tracker being technically the target’s iPhone, the stalker or criminal iPhone being just a mean to activate this tracking…

And there will be no information, no warning whatsoever!

Winter February 21, 2023 7:44 AM


So you want a simple measure for the guy who stole my motorcycle to know that he is “being surveilled by one of them.”?

This question is simply a balancing of the number of people stalked, robbed, attacked, or murdered against the number of purses found back.

As for your motorcycle, you can easily use one of those GPS trackers for pets. Using the Tiles is just an ultra cheap way to track your $3k motorcycle using other peoples’ phones “for free”, and taking the crime victims as “not my problem”.

Clive Robinson February 21, 2023 11:21 AM

@ iAPX,

“There’s another way to exploit an old smartphone, to have the position relayed while not detectable, and I find it very funny!”

Shhh you don’t want to make it “too easy” for those who’s limits don’t extend beyond their hands reach.

But yes it’s another,

“Exploit the ill-found protocol attack”

In my “limited experience” any “technical solution” to a “social issue” generally has way way more holes than a second hand pair of string underpants…

Almost the first thing I do on examining a new technical solution is “flip it over” and try to look at it from an attackers perspective. Lets just say my level of disapointment is generally arived at with a speed faster than a blink of an eye…

It’s why I find this “fines” idea to be laughable at best. In part because I can see way more otherwise avoidable liability being heaped on Tile because of it…

Leike Swann February 21, 2023 4:04 PM

When I saw the name “Tile” I misunderstood and bought a few thousand to redo the mosaic floor. I gradually realized my mistake but by then it was too late. Anyway, the floor looks quite nice, and I know now I can never lose my house.

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