Apple’s Android App to Scan for AirTags is a Necessary Step Forward, But More Anti-Stalking Mitigations Are Needed

Gandalf_The_Grey

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We’re pleased to see Apple has come out with an Android app called Tracker Detect that addresses some of the serious threats to privacy and safety we identified with Apple AirTags when they debuted. Quarter-sized Bluetooth-enabled homing beacons marketed as a way to track lost luggage or keys, AirTags can easily be exploited by stalkers to track and locate their victims.

As we explained in May, AirTags can be slipped into a target’s bag or car, allowing abusers to follow their every move. While there are other physical trackers such as Tile and Chipolo on the market, AirTags are an order of magnitude more dangerous because Apple has made every iPhone that doesn’t specifically opt out into a part of the Bluetooth tracking network that AirTags use to communicate, meaning AirTags’ reach is much greater than other trackers. Nearly all of us cross paths with Bluetooth-enabled iPhones multiple times a day, even if we don’t know it.
Having an app to download is a step forward, but it is not enough. We’re calling on Google to take this one step further and incorporate background AirTag tracking and detection of other physical trackers into the Android OS. Unlike the functionality Apple has incorporated into the iPhone, which operates constantly in the background, Tracker Detect requires the user to run a scan. Having your device automatically detect trackers will put it on par with the stalking mitigations that iPhone users already have. That mitigation can only be accomplished if Apple and Google cooperate in order to protect users against physical trackers.

We hope that both Apple and Google take the threat of ubiquitous, cheap, and powerful physical trackers seriously enough to work together to help their users know when they’re being stalked.