Apple devices have a way to ping and broadcast their locations, even when they're off.
Using the 'Find My' app, Apple device owners can easily track their devices, where ever they are in the world. The thing is, accuracy may not be its key advantage.
The ACLU of Colorado has sued a Denver police detective over a January 2022 SWAT raid of a 77-year-old woman’s home in Montbello, which the organization said was utterly baseless.
At that time, a tactical team was dispatched, and searched Ruby Johnson’s home as part of an investigation of a truck stolen from the parking garage of the Hyatt in Denver, U.S..
The reason for such commotion, is because the truck contained four semi-automatic handguns, a tactical military-style rifle, a revolver, two drones, $4,000.00 in cash, and an iPhone 11.
The authorities attempted to find that stolen truck, and the items, by using the 'Find My' app, which apparently showed Johnson's home.
According to a lawsuit filed by Johnson, it's alleged that Detective Gary Staab used a "hastily prepared, bare-bones, misleading affidavit" to obtain a warrant, which was approved by the Denver District Attorney’s Office and signed by Judge Beth Faragher.
Staab literally called the "illegal search" of Johnson’s home by having an armored vehicle with at least 8 officers wearing full body armor and carrying automatic weapons, raiding Johnson's home.
They tore her home apart in search of a missing iPhone, and this incident left Johnson traumatized.
Since Johnson is innocent and that the search did not find anything in her home, the retiree is filing the lawsuit.
According to ACLU, the lawsuit is possible because Colorado's 2020 law enforcement accountability legislation, which eliminated qualified immunity for officers in state court.
"Both Ms. Johnson and her home of 40 years carry wounds from that day that have not healed. Johnson no longer feels safe in her own home. She developed health issues due to the extreme stress and anxiety the unlawful search caused her," the ACLU said in a news release.
The lawsuit contended that the Find My app to pinpoint the exact location of something isn’t intended as a law enforcement tool, meaning that the information from the app alone should not have justified searching Johnson’s home.
“He (Gary Staab) should not have applied for the warrant. His supervisor should have vetoed it. The district attorney should have rejected it. The judge should not have issued the warrant. The SWAT team should have stayed home,” said ACLU’s legal director, Mark Silverstein.
The issue here stemmed from the fact that the Find My app actually indicated that the phone was somewhere in the vicinity of Johnson’s home, and did not give a precise location.
Despite this, Staab allegedly swore that the screenshot from the app "signified the phone being inside of [Johnson’s] house."
Apples' Find My is essentially an asset tracking app and service that enables users to track the location of their iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS devices, AirPods, AirTags and a number of supported third-party accessories through a connected iCloud account.
The feature uses GPS location, and pinged data the device broadcasts with the help of other Apple devices who chose to share their location.
Find My can be pretty accurate, down to less than a meter. However, in some other times, the feature cannot really pinpoint a device's precise location due to a number of factors.
And when this happens, the size of the blue circle is an indicator on how precisely the device’s location can be determined.
" [...] the larger the circle; the greater the inaccuracy," the complaint (PDF) states. "This blue circle covered an area spanning at least six different properties and parts of four different blocks in the vicinity of [redacted] Street."