Thwarting Stalking Through AirTags And Other Bluetooth Trackers

Apple and Google have decided to team up in an effort to thwart the stalking that is taking place through AirTags and other similar Bluetooth-tracking gadgets. 

This Tuesday, the companies behind iPhone and Android smartphones joined forces to submit a plan which will work to combat the unwanted surveillance that is reportedly taking place through AirTags and other similar trackers.

AirTags and other products such as Tile, Chipolo and Pebblebee are devices that operate on Bluetooth which can be attached to things such as your phone and keys so that you can keep track of the whereabouts of your possessions.  

But despite the handy purpose of these useful little devices, attention has been turned towards their more sinister uses after widespread reports of people using them for tracking and stalking people have been steadily surfacing.  

Unless the technology companies releasing Bluetooth trackers can solve the issue, the ultimate problem will stand: is the moment of inconvenience of frantically searching for your phone and keys really worth the risk of exposing yourself to harmful tracking possibilities?

A Look Into AirTags And The Other Alternatives 

Since its release in April 2021, the AirTag has been globally popular, proving useful to anyone wanting an end to needing to turn their house upside down after losing their wallet or phone. The AirTag provides a simple way to locate and keep track of your most important belongings. 

These tools work by sending out a secure Bluetooth signal which can be detected by nearby devices on your AirTag or iCloud. You can then go to the Find My app to see it on the map.

Besides Apple, several other companies have also brought out Bluetooth tracker alternatives. 

Instead of using AirTag, both Apple and Android devices can also use Tile and Tile Pro. The Tile Pro is perhaps the best Bluetooth tracker around with an impressive 400-foot range and features such as smart alerts and a 30-day location history if you opt for the premium subscription. 

Samsung also has its own Galaxy SmartTag and SmartTag Plus which work exclusively with Samsung smartphones. Using the Galaxy Find network, the SmartTag has a range of 390 feet and the SmartTag Plus has even more handy features.

The entire process of these Bluetooth trackers is meant to be anonymous and encrypted to protect your privacy. Despite this, these trackers have proven easy to abuse by stalkers. Police have reported that people are using these devices to track people for menacing or criminal purposes without their knowledge.

The More Sinister Side Of These Tracking Devices 

Apple has finally admitted that they recognise the potential for their AirTags to be misused, after being criticised for not addressing the issue sooner, and has teamed up with Android to try and resolve this safety breach.

“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.

Attention has turned to Bluetooth trackers being used for criminal or malicious purposes, but there is particular concern over the part they are playing in cases of domestic violence

Reports have surfaced of men finding ways to exploit smart tech to harass women. As the Bluetooth-synced tracker will alert any nearby Apple device of its location, the devices enable stalkers and abusers to track their victims. 

Since they launched, multiple women have reported being stalked by Apple’s trackers after being pinged on their phone by an unknown AirTag device. A recent investigation by Motherboard found more than a hundred U.S police reports relating to this problem including a report of a woman realising an ex-partner with a history of assault was tracking her every move through her tag. 

Brooks Nader, a Sports Illustrated model, revealed last year that she was stalked by a complete stranger using an AirTag. “It was the scariest moment ever, and I just want everyone to be aware that this exists”, she warned in an Instagram post.

TikTok user Kayla Malec also went viral last year after documenting herself finding that one of these devices had been planted in her car.  

How Are Companies Combatting Unwanted Tracking?

In response to claims that AirTags are being used for the purpose of stalking, Apple has already introduced various safety features.

The company has instituted notifications that warn iPhone users if a location tag that is not associated with their device is travelling with them and an app has also been developed that can detect unwanted AirTag tracking for Android devices.

But now, Apple and Google have decided it is time to pair up to go one step further to combat unwanted surveillance. They have joined forces in the matter and hope to have a plan put in place by the end of the year. 

This plan also has the backing of Samsung – which sells the most Android smartphones worldwide – as well as of the makers of similar Bluetooth tracking products such as Tile, Chipolo and Pebblebee. 

Apple and Google have submitted a draft of their solution to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) – an organisation that creates standards for the Internet – in the hopes that when it is approved it can be distributed to iPhones and Android phones through software updates.

Erica Olsen, the senior director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Safety Net Project, has applauded the effort of Apple and Google which she believes have set an industry standard in how vigilant companies should be when dealing with the dangers of Bluetooth trackers.  

Olsen believes that the new plan will help protect survivors of abusive relationships and other people that have been targets of stealth technology. “These new standards will minimise opportunities for abuse of this technology and decrease the burden on survivors in detecting unwanted trackers,” she said.

The draft put forward by Apple and Google is open to comment from interested parties for the next three months. The two companies will then work to address and incorporate feedback and, after this point, active steps can begin to be taken to institute a solution that will hopefully pave the way to stop Bluetooh Tracker stalking conclusively in the future.