In May, Apple and Google joined forces on an industry specification to warn people about nearby Bluetooth-powered trackers. Now Google will start rolling out the feature for Android, but the company will delay the launch of its upgraded Find My Device network because Apple isn’t ready.
Google says that starting this month, Android phones will begin warning users when they detect unknown AirTags. This should help alert people if someone is trying to track their location with an AirTag, plus it happens at the system level without the need for downloading another app. Android users can manually scan for trackers too, by heading to Settings > Safety & emergency > Unknown tracker alerts > Scan now.
These new features should become available for Android 6 and up and will come via a Play Service update, not an Android update. In other words, if you’ve got an old phone that won’t be getting updates any time soon, you’ll still benefit from the new protection features.
Alongside announcing the new anti-stalking features, Google said it will hold off on launching its improved Find My Device network because Apple isn’t ready to implement unknown tracker alerts in iOS yet. Google says it will delay its Find My Device improvements until Apple adds protections to iOS, seemingly to avoid new trackers launching that Apple users won’t be able to detect.
As a quick refresher, there’s been a lot of coverage in recent years about how Bluetooth-powered trackers can facilitate stalking and unwanted tracking, in part driven by the popularity and ubiquity of Apple’s AirTag and ‘Find My’ network. The AirTag and Find My helped propel the issue into the mainstream in a way that other Bluetooth-based tracking tools hadn’t.
Since then, there have been plenty of stories about thieves using AirTags to track and steal vehicles, or people using AirTags to catch thieves and more. Apple developed systems into its devices and Find My to help warn people when someone might be using an AirTag to track them without their knowledge, and even launched an Android app so people outside the Apple ecosystem could check for unwanted trackers. Unfortunately, these systems are flawed since they’re not built into devices — unless you’re worried about being stalked, you’re probably not going to download Apple’s Android app to scan for AirTags.
Other companies went different routes in attempting to curb the problem. Tile, for example, set up a system to fine people $1 million USD for using its trackers to commit crimes.
Enter Apple and Google’s industry specification, which aims to combat the misuse of Bluetooth trackers. In May, several companies had already expressed support, including Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, Eufy Security and Pebblebee. One goal of the spec was to build unwanted tracker notifications into Android and iOS so people wouldn’t need to download apps. The original announcement aimed for a “production implementation” by the end of 2023, but it seems Google beat Apple to the punch.
Image credit: Google