Apple and Google partner to stop unwanted tracking

  • May 8, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

Apple and Google have teamed up to create an industry specification to address unwanted tracking using devices such as AirTags.

The companies say they welcome input from industry participants and advocacy groups on a draft specification to alert users in the event of suspected unwanted tracking.

Location-tracking devices help users find personal items such as their keys, purse and luggage through crowdsourced finding networks. However, they can also be misused for unwanted tracking of individuals.

Apple and Google have jointly submitted a proposed industry specification to help combat the misuse of Bluetooth location-tracking devices for unwanted tracking. The first-of-its-kind specification will allow Bluetooth location-tracking devices to be compatible with unauthorised tracking detection and alerts across iOS and Android platforms. Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, Eufy Security and Pebblebee have expressed support for the draft specification, which offers best practices and instructions for manufacturers, should they choose to build these capabilities into their products.

“Apple launched AirTag to give users the peace of mind knowing where to find their most important items,” said Ron Huang, Apple vice president. “We built AirTag and the Find My network with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking – a first in the industry – and we continue to make improvements to help ensure the technology is being used as intended. This new industry specification builds upon the AirTag protections and, through collaboration with Google, results in a critical step forward to help combat unwanted tracking across iOS and Android.”

Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of engineering for Android, added: “Bluetooth trackers have created tremendous user benefits, but they also bring the potential of unwanted tracking, which requires industrywide action to solve. Android has an unwavering commitment to protecting users, and will continue to develop strong safeguards and collaborate with the industry to help combat the misuse of Bluetooth tracking devices.”

In addition to incorporating feedback from device manufacturers, input from various safety and advocacy groups has been integrated into the development of the specification.

“The National Network to End Domestic Violence has been advocating for universal standards to protect survivors – and all people – from the misuse of Bluetooth tracking devices,” said Erica Olsen, a senior director at the network. “This collaboration and the resulting standards are a significant step forward. NNEDV is encouraged by this progress. These new standards will minimise opportunities for abuse of this technology and decrease the burden on survivors in detecting unwanted trackers. We are grateful for these efforts and look forward to continuing to work together to address unwanted tracking and misuse.”

Alexandra Reeve Givens, CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, added: “Today’s release of a draft specification is a welcome step to confront harmful misuses of Bluetooth location trackers. CDT continues to focus on ways to make these devices more detectable and reduce the likelihood that they will be used to track people. A key element to reducing misuse is a universal, OS-level solution that is able to detect trackers made by different companies on the variety of smartphones that people use every day. We commend Apple and Google for their partnership and dedication to developing a uniform solution to improve detectability. We look forward to the specification moving through the standardisation process and to further engagement on ways to reduce the risk of Bluetooth location trackers being misused.”

The specification has been submitted as an internet draft via standards development organisation the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Interested parties are invited and encouraged to review and comment over the next three months. Following the comment period, Apple and Google will partner to address feedback, and will release a production implementation of the specification for unwanted tracking alerts by the end of 2023 that will then be supported in future versions of iOS and Android.