Apple and Google join forces to crack down on Bluetooth tracking devices

Apple and Google have teamed up to find a solution to devices like AirTags being used to track people without their consent.

Bluetooth tracking devices, like AirTags, were conceived to help people locate their items such as keys and luggage.

However, some people have misused such devices to track people without them knowing.

Since the release of AirTags, Apple’s bluetooth tracking device, there have been many incidents where people have found them hidden on their vehicles or in their bags, allowing the owner of the device to track their location.

Given this serious concern for people’s safety, Google and Apple outlined a proposal to set standards to prevent unwanted tracking or stalking.

Today Apple and Google jointly submitted a proposed industry specification to help combat the misuse of Bluetooth location-tracking devices for unwanted tracking,” a statement released by Apple said.

“The first-of-its-kind specification will allow Bluetooth location-tracking devices to be compatible with unauthorised tracking detection and alerts across iOS and Android platforms.”

The draft specification offers best practices and instructions for manufacturers if they opt to build these capabilities into their products.

Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, Eufy Security and Pebblebee have all expressed support for the draft specification, the press release stated.

The specification has been submitted to standards development organisation, the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Over the next three months, interested parties are encouraged to review and comment on the submission, after which Apple and Google will come together to address feedback and release a production implementation of the specification for unwanted tracking alerts.

It is expected the rollout will begin before the end of 2023 and future versions of iOS and Android will support it.

“We built AirTag and the Find My network with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking — a first in the industry — and we continue to make improvements to help ensure the technology is being used as intended,” said Ron Huang, Apple’s vice-president of sensing and connectivity.

“This new industry specification builds upon the AirTag protections, and through collaboration with Google results in a critical step forward to help combat unwanted tracking across iOS and Android.”

Dave Burke, Google’s vice-president of engineering for Android, said Android has an “unwavering commitment to protecting users” and in the future will develop strong safeguards and work to combat the misuse of Bluetooth tracking devices.

‘Significant step forward’

Several people and advocacy groups have warned about the dangers of Bluetooth tracking devices.

AirTags hit the market in 2020, but other Bluetooth tracking devices pre-date them.

In 2020, a survey conducted by Curtin University and the Women’s Services Network found the number of domestic violence victim-survivors tracked with GPS apps or devices had increased by more than 244 per cent since 2015.

Stephen Wilson, the CEO of Protective Group, a company that utilises technology to keep safe domestic violence victims, previously told The New Daily AirTags had been found in everything from car boots and doors, to children’s toys and underwear.

In 2022, two women who allege their ex-romantic partners used AirTags to track them filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, CNN reported.

In a separate incident last year, a woman from the US allegedly attached an AirTag to her partner’s vehicle, tracked him and killed him after catching him cheating.

Additionally, there have been several incidents documented on social media of people being notified on their iPhones that an AirTag is potentially tracking them.

In the statement released by Apple, the Centre for Democracy and Technology’s president and CEO Alexandra Reeve Givens said the draft specification was a “welcome step”.

Ms Reeve said a “key element” to minimising the risk of Bluetooth tracking devices was to have a solution that could detect trackers made by different companies on a variety of smartphones.

“The National Network to End Domestic Violence has been advocating for universal standards to protect survivors – and all people – from the misuse of Bluetooth tracking devices,” said Erica Olsen, from the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“This collaboration and the resulting standards are a significant step forward.”

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