Apple and Google propose plan to tackle AirTag stalking


lukgehr | Pixabay

Misheel Bayasgalan, Copy Editor

Apple Inc. and Google proposed new device specifications to the Internet Engineering Task Force to combat the usage of AirTags and similar Bluetooth devices for stalking.

The proposal was created by Apple and Google, which provide respective widely used smartphone software systems iOS and Android. The proposal was supported by Samsung, the largest manufacturer of smartphones that run on Android. As well as other companies that make similar Bluetooth tracking devices, such as Tile, Chipolo and Pebblebee.

The intended usage of AirTags was to help find and keep track of often lost personal items such as keys or luggage through Bluetooth. A user would stick an AirTag on an item and be able to track it from their iPhone using the Find My app.

However, there have been an increasing number of instances where the device was used for malicious purposes, such as stalking or to target cars for theft. Furthermore in Jan. 2022, the New Jersey Regional Operations & Intelligence Center released a statement warning how AirTags are an “inherent threat to law enforcement, as criminals could use them to identify officers’ sensitive locations,” according to The Guardian.

Since the device’s release in 2021, Apple had updated its software to mitigate the rising issue, such as notify iPhone users if an AirTag not associated with their device is traveling with them. Additionally, it created the app Tracker Detect that serves the same function for Android devices.

The Guardian reported that Google’s Vice President of Engineering for Android Dave Burke said in a press release, “Bluetooth trackers have created tremendous user benefits, but they also bring the potential of unwanted tracking, which requires industrywide action to solve.”

The proposal intends to reach and establish an industry-wide standard for all tracking devices such as the AirTag. The key intention of the proposal is to make all Bluetooth tracking devices compatible with an alert system available on all smartphones, according to Yahoo! News. If established as a standard, all manufacturers of tracking devices can build in the systems necessary to be compatible with the alert system.

The draft proposal was submitted to the IETF in May 2023, and the companies hope to have a plan to implement by the end of this year. The draft is open to comments from stakeholders for the next three months, and relevant feedback will be incorporated into the final plan.

If adopted as an industry wide standard, this change can protect numerous victims of stalking and domestic abuse. The Senior Director of National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Safety Net Project Erica Olsen applauded the new proposal.

“These new standards will minimize opportunities for abuse of this technology and decrease the burden on survivors in detecting unwanted trackers,” said Olsen.