Apple and Google Anti-Stalking Standard Is a Good Start

But the fix requires more than just a tech-based solution

  • Apple and Google have co-announced a new specification to stop tracker-based stalking. 
  • Bluetooth tracker makers are already on board with the draft spec.
  • We also need better education and laws to protect people. 
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iPhones and Android phones may soon be able to detect all tracker tags and keep people safer from stalking. 

A new joint specification from Apple and Google will set a standard for Bluetooth-based tracking tags so that manufacturers of these tags can make them compatible with unauthorized tracking detection alerts on iPhones and Android phones. By standardizing the way this works, any maker can add anti-stalking capabilities to their tags. It's an excellent move, but it won't stop a determined stalker.

"Adding the proposed technology to devices will help protect people from being unknowingly tracked. While this spec will help cut down on the 'civilian' tracking, it will not deter a motivated and skilled threat actor," cyber security professional Chris Furtick told Lifewire via email.

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In a joint press release, Apple and Google said that Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, Eufy Security, and Pebblebee have all "expressed support" for the draft spec, and it could catch on. And while we all want this tech for our protection, it's curious that it probably won't affect anyone's buying decision. Not in a good direction, anyway. 

Any would-be stalker would avoid buying anti-stalking tags, and the rest of us, the ones with no stalking ambitions in the near future, would probably not care either way, as it's not a feature that would benefit us directly. 

But the idea behind this spec is still a good one. If your phone detects a tracker, it should be able to locate it via sound. Trackers should also sound an alert when they are in motion, so you could find it even if you don't have a compatible smartphone. 

But can it really help? Perhaps Apple and Google are acting early to avoid legislation, but maybe laws governing tracking tags could still be a good thing. 

"There are roughly 30 individual state-level statutes that make it illegal to place location devices in automobiles for purposes of tracking people without their knowledge or informed consent. For example, in some places, it may be illegal to use tracker tags to monitor someone without their consent. We may begin to see legislative amendments to specifically include the use of tracking tags per se," data privacy and cybersecurity attorney Ryan Johnson told Lifewire via email. 


Person using a phone with a hooded person in the background, following

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Just as important as automatic anti-stalking tech is education. First, people need to know these devices even exist, and they need to know that it's possible to find them and disable them. A technological answer alone doesn't address the whole problem.

"While the use of tech can help detect and prevent the misuse of tracker tags, educating the public on the potential risks and how to protect themselves is a crucial component to reduce malicious activity. This includes educating users on how to properly use and secure their devices, as well as how to recognize and report any suspicious activity," says Johnson. "Technology can provide an extra layer of protection, but education is probably most important in ensuring that users understand the risks and how to protect themselves."

It's really about a holistic approach, there is no magic cure for all tracking issues.

According to Apple and Google, the National Network to End Domestic Violence supports this move. Erica Olsen, senior director of NNEDV's Safety Net Project, says that the standards will minimize the opportunities for stalking and abuse. In a way, an alert on your phone is itself a kind of education.

If these trackers are sticking around—and they should, because they are incredibly useful for all kinds of non-stalking purposes—then we definitely need to make them safe for consumers, just like other potentially harmful products. This should come from a mixture of tech, education, and law. 

"It's really about a holistic approach, there is no magic cure for all tracking issues, but there are discrete layers we can employ to help avoid falling victim to these issues," says Furtick. "Educating targeted individuals and the public alike is a great first step, in fact, I'd encourage everyone to review what apps and acquaintances have access to their location data immediately. Do you need to let XYZ app have access to your physical location at all times? Probably not."

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