Apple and Google announced today that they will lead an industry-wide initiative to draft a specification that alerts users to unwanted Bluetooth tracking after numerous cases of Bluetooth trackers like Apple’s AirTag being used for stalking or other criminal apps. Other tracker makers like Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, eufy Security, and Pebblebee have expressed interest in the draft, and the companies are seeking input from industry participants and advocacy groups.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) received the companies’ Internet-Draft specification. Over the next three months, other interested parties can review and comment. Apple and Google will provide feedback and release a production implementation of the specification by year’s end for future iOS and Android versions, they said.
Apple’s AirTag wasn’t the first Bluetooth tracker to raise security concerns about misuse—Tile and others had existed for years—but its ability to integrate AirTag with the 2 billion+ Apple devices globally, including over 1 billion iPhones, as part of its “Find My” network made it one of the largest players almost immediately. It popularized Bluetooth trackers for finding lost items.
AirTags were soon linked to stalking and car theft. In February 2022, Apple announced new privacy warnings, alerts, and documentation to fix some of its issues. It also said it worked with law enforcement on all AirTag-related requests and could provide account details in response to a subpoena or other valid law enforcement request to deter misuse.
Today, the company and Google want to make these safety features a standard. This includes improving Apple’s AirTag protections and providing tools for iOS and Android users to fight unwanted tracking. Apple’s Tracker Detect app for Android users requires users to actively scan for tags, making it less effective than Apple’s Find My app. The new spec wants unwanted tracking alerts to work across platforms.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Center for Democracy & Technology applauded today’s announcement. The former, “encouraged by this progress,” had been advocating for a universal standard to protect survivors from tracker misuse. The latter called it a “welcome step” to prevent device misuse.
Google and Apple collaborated on the 2020 iOS and Android COVID-19 tracing tool.
AirTag received positive press when the New York Police Department advised car owners to use AirTag to prevent car theft, which increased after TikTok viral videos showed hot wiring Kia and Hyundai vehicles. The Association for a Better New York donated 500 free AirTags to car owners, the city said.
Ron Huang, Apple’s vice president of Sensing and Connectivity, said, “Apple launched AirTag to give users the peace of mind knowing where to find their most important items. “We built AirTag and the Find My network with proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking—a first in the industry—and we continue to make improvements to ensure the technology is being used as intended. This new industry specification builds on AirTag protections and collaborates with Google to combat unwanted tracking across iOS and Android.”
“Bluetooth trackers have created tremendous user benefits, but they also bring the potential of unwanted tracking, which requires industrywide action to solve,” said Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of Engineering for Android. “Android has an unwavering commitment to protecting users and will continue to develop strong safeguards and collaborate with the industry to help combat Bluetooth tracking device misuse.”