Apple Inc. and Google LLC today announced a new initiative to address the issue of unwanted tracking using Bluetooth devices such as Apple’s AirTag.
The initiative launches with a draft new industry standard that would add the ability to alert both iOS and Android users to any nearby Bluetooth trackers, including those that may have been planted for the purpose of stalking. Although the standard applies to all Bluetooth trackers, the best-known tracker is AirTag.
Launched in 2021, AirTag was pitched as a way for users to find lost items more easily using their iPhone, Apple’s Find My app and Apple’s global network. The tags are small and can easily be attached to handbags, keys, backpacks and other items.
The ability for AirTags to be used to track items is a sound idea and one that has been embraced by Apple users, with sales of AirTags passing $1 billion as of December. However, their cheap cost and handy utility in tracking lost items has also been used by some who wish to track people without their knowledge.
Exactly how big a problem AirTag stalking is versus media hype is difficult to ascertain. Though Apple has previously downplayed stalking concerns, with today’s announcement, Apple and Google appear to confirm that it’s an issue that should be addressed.
The proposed standard will allow Bluetooth location-tracking devices to be compatible with unauthorized tracking detection and alerts across Android and iOS platforms. Also supporting the draft specification are Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Tile Inc., Chipolo Inc., eufy Security and Pebblebee Inc.
“Bluetooth trackers have created tremendous user benefits but also bring the potential of unwanted tracking, which requires industry-wide action to solve,” Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of Engineering for Android, said in a blog post. “Android has an unwavering commitment to protecting users and will continue to develop strong safeguards and collaborate with the industry to help combat the misuse of Bluetooth tracking devices.”
In a separate statement, Ron Huang, Apple’s vice president of Sensing and Connectivity, noted that Apple “built AirTag and the Find My network with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking… and we continue to make improvements to help ensure the technology is being used as intended.”
The specification has been submitted to the standards development organization Internet Engineering Task Force. Apple and Google are also inviting interested parties to review and comment on the proposed standard over the next three months.
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