The New York Police Department is turning to Apple AirTags to combat a rise in stolen vehicles it blames on a TikTok car theft challenge. In a press conference on Sunday, NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city is handing out 500 free AirTags to help residents track their cars in case they’ve been stolen.
Mayor Adams said there’s a direct link between the increase in car thefts in the city and the viral TikTok videos from thieves known as the “Kia Boyz” that first emerged last summer. In clips posted to the platform, the pair taught users how to exploit a Hyundai and Kia defect that let them start a car using a USB cable and other readily available tools.
Since then, cities across the US have seen an increase in car thefts, specifically among Hyundai and Kia vehicles. While Hyundai and Kia have started offering a free software update to the millions of affected vehicles in February, that doesn’t mean everyone has driven to their local dealership to get it.
“You will see the spike that we are experiencing now is a large part of what’s happening on social media,” Adams said. According to John Chell, NYPD chief of patrol, the city has already seen 966 stolen Hyundais and Kias this year so far, marking an increase of 819 from all of 2022. Meanwhile, 4,500 vehicles have been reported stolen overall.
Mayor Adams, a self-proclaimed tech geek, has been promoting the use of technology within the NYPD to catch criminals, sometimes to the dismay of NYC residents. Last month, Adams announced that the NYPD is bringing back the highly controversial four-legged robot, dubbed Digidog. The city is also piloting a car-mounted launcher that shoots GPS tracking tags onto vehicles, along with a “fully autonomous outdoor security robot.” When Adams first entered office last year, he elected to get his first three paychecks in cryptocurrency.
Apple’s AirTags are typically used to track things like a purse, wallet, suitcase, or set of keys in real time, but they also come in handy when helping people track down their stolen cars. Although the city is encouraging residents to hide the AirTags inside their cars to make them more difficult for a thief to find, an AirTag safety feature may alert a thief of its presence anyway.
In 2021, Apple added a feature that notifies iPhone users when an unknown AirTag is traveling with them to help combat stalking (and, funnily enough, car thefts). The company also launched an Android app that scans for AirTags and other Find My-enabled devices, but it doesn’t operate in the background as the feature does on an iPhone — you have to manually scan for the devices. Android users also can’t take advantage of AirTag tracking features in the first place, as the devices are only compatible with iPhones.
The NYPD won’t have access to the real-time location of the AirTags that it’s giving away. Mayor Adams notes that people will have to notify the police department that their vehicle has been stolen and then give the authorities permission to track their car. The city is only distributing the AirTags, which it received as a donation from the nonprofit Association for a Better New York, to residents in Castle Hill, Soundview, and Parkchester, who can call their local precinct to get one, according to CBS News.