Google and Apple partner to fight location tracker stalking

Technology

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Tile Sticker and Apple AirTag
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple and Google announced Monday that updated iPhones and Android phones will show alerts warning users that there is a wireless location tracking device nearby, in case the user was not aware they were being tracked and wants to stop it.

The move is the latest sign that the two major platforms are working to fix the downside of wireless trackers — such as Apple’s AirTag — that can be useful for finding lost or stolen objects by displaying their location on a digital map, but can also be used by criminals to track people.

IPhone and Android devices with up-to-date software will receive a message telling them that a Bluetooth tracker is “found moving with you.” Users can then have the tracker play a sound to make it easier to find, and access instructions about how to disable it.

When AirTags were first introduced by Apple in 2021, they quickly found an audience among users who would attach the tiny devices to their keys, luggage, or even their car, allowing them to use Apple’s global network of devices and crowdsourced Bluetooth signals to quickly locate their lost objects — for example, checked baggage that never arrived after a flight.

But the devices were also used for crime, and some victims said that they were slipped an AirTag at a crowded bar to be tracked. Since then, Apple has been working with Google to integrate alerts and warnings into iOS and Android to tamp down criminal misuse. Alerts specifically warning against an AirTag traveling with the user were already built into Android.

The AirTag is also now just one of many Bluetooth trackers. Apple and Google allow third-party companies, such as Chipolo and Motorola, to build their own devices.

But when third-party companies build so-called “Find My” lost device trackers, they have to build them to Apple and Google’s specifications, which will now require unwanted tracking alerts.

Apple and Google said they were working together to create a public industry specification for these kinds of Bluetooth tracker devices, but although the official standard isn’t finished, both companies have implemented the alerts into their operating systems, starting with Apple’s iOS 17.5, which will be released on Monday, and Android devices with version 6.0 or newer.

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