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Google and Apple aim to expose Bluetooth tracker abuse

Companies join forces to tackle unwanted tracking
May 3, 2023

Apple and Google have announced a new tech standard proposal to alert people when their movements are tracked with Bluetooth devices such as AirTags or Tile. The proposed specification, which has the backing of Samsung, Tile, and other tech giants, aims to combat the potential misuse of location devices intended to help people find lost items by preventing unwanted tracking.

While small Bluetooth trackers like AirTags have brought tremendous benefits, they have also been used by stalkers to secretly track their unsuspecting victims, such as ex-romantic partners. Erica Olsen, senior director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, has noted that unwanted surveillance is a common tactic of abuse.

Apple and Google's proposal would make Bluetooth tracking devices compatible with detection and alert systems in iOS and Android mobile software if adopted as a standard. The standardization would enable Bluetooth tracking device makers to build the capabilities into their products.

The proposal builds upon the AirTag protections and, through collaboration with Google, results in a critical step forward to combat unwanted tracking across iOS and Android, according to Apple's Vice President of Sensing and Connectivity, Ron Huang.

The move comes amid growing concerns over the misuse of Bluetooth trackers like AirTags, which can be used to secretly map the locations of unsuspecting victims. Apple has faced lawsuits and criticism over using AirTags as a stalking tool. The coin-sized gadget is an easy way to keep track of your belongings, but it can also be used to trail humans carrying those items.

Alexandra Reeve Givens, chief executive of the Center for Democracy and Technology, commended Apple and Google for working together on a solution to minimize the opportunities for misuse of Bluetooth trackers. As unwanted surveillance can be a serious threat, advocates and technology companies must work together to combat it, according to Olsen.

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