In an effort to shed light on Bluetooth tracking, Apple and Google
On Tuesday, Apple and Google suggested a new technological standard to alert users when their location is being tracked using Bluetooth sensors like AirTags and Tiles.
The “first-of-its-kind” specification has the support of Samsung Electronics Co., Tile Inc., and other industry giants. Together, these two mobile operating systems power the vast majority of the world’s smartphones.
Stalkers have discreetly tracked people like ex-lovers using small location devices designed to help people retrieve their lost belongings like backpacks, laptops, keys, and handbags.
“Bluetooth trackers have created tremendous user benefits, but they also bring the potential of unwanted tracking, which requires industry-wide action to solve,” said Google vice president of Android engineering Dave Burke in a joint announcement.
In order to make Bluetooth tracking devices compatible with detection and alarm systems in iOS and Android mobile applications, Apple and Google made a proposal to a key Internet standards development body.
If this were to become the standard, manufacturers of Bluetooth tracking devices would be free to incorporate the features into their products.
This new industry specification expands upon the AirTag safeguards and, thanks to Google’s participation, represents an important advance in the fight against invasive tracking on both iOS and Android. In the announcement, Apple quoted Ron Huang, vice president of sensing and connectivity.
AirTag sensors, originally intended to help the forgetful, have been co-opted for more sinister purposes, leading to outrage and litigation against Apple.
The coin-sized silver and white device is “an easy way to keep track of your stuff,” the Apple website proclaims.
Customers can clip it to their keys, purse, or suitcase. A US$29 AirTag, connected to a smartphone app, allows owners to track the whereabouts of their lost possessions in real time, but the transmitter can also keep tabs on the people who are in possession of them.
Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, noted that unwanted surveillance is a prevalent method of abuse.
For Bluetooth trackers, “it’s imperative for advocates and technology companies to work together on solutions to minimize the opportunities for misuse,” Olsen said.
Apple and Google have collaborated to improve the detection of intrusive tracking devices, which has been praised by the CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, Alexandra Reeve Givens.
Reeve Givens expressed optimism about the upcoming standardization of the specification.