Google is taking a significant step towards enhancing user safety and security with the introduction of its new safety feature, “Unknown Tracker Alerts.” The feature, announced earlier this year, aims to protect Android users from potential stalking and unauthorized tracking through Bluetooth devices, such as Apple AirTags and other tracking devices. By alerting users to potential tracking, this feature enables them to take immediate action to protect themselves from malicious intent.
First announced at Google I/O this spring, the new feature will be available on Android 6+ devices from today to put a halt to the rise in digital stalking and tracking that was done leveraging Apple’s AirTag technology. Users will be able to manually scan for trackers with their Android devices, and if such tracking devices are found, refer to the feature’s guidance and tips on what to do about it. In order to manually scan, users need to go to Settings, and then to Safety & Emergency. There, they shall find the Unknown Tracker Alerts option, and need to select the “Scan now” button to complete the ten-second scan.
The arrival of this feature has been a long time in coming, especially when one considers the fact that the surge in Bluetooth tracking devices, such as Apple AirTags, has raised alarms regarding privacy breaches and potential misuse for unlawful purposes. Incidents of stalking and vehicle tracking for premeditated thefts compelled Apple to take action by introducing new privacy warnings and alerts for AirTag users. Nonetheless, Android users were left with a lower level of safeguarding. This is where Google’s unknown tracker alerts come in, offering an interim solution to protect Android users until the completion of the industry-wide specification (undertaken by Apple and Google to tackle the issue of unwanted tracking from Bluetooth devices).
Upon receiving an unknown tracker alert, users can view a map displaying the tracker’s path, as well as tap on “Play sound” to activate a sound on the device to aid in its retrieval. Erik Kay, Google’s VP of Engineering, announced in a blog post that the safety of users, along with “the prevention of unwanted location tracking is a top priority for Android.” Google notes that should users bring the device near the back of their phones, some Bluetooth trackers may share their serial number or additional information about the owner of the device, like the last four digits of their phone number. Furthermore, they will be able to disable the Bluetooth tracker completely, Kay added.
To continue keeping users can their devices safe, the tech titan is incorporating several improvements to its new Find My Device network as well, as well as delaying its global rollout. For those who need a reminder, Google had announced at I/O 2023 that its updated Find My Device network will help users locate missing belongings, like headphones, phones, luggage, keys, and others, allowing them to locate the devices by ringing them or view their location on a map.