Universal Bluetooth tracker misuse standard close to deployment

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An AirTag won’t track anybody, if the battery is removed.

After Google pointed fingers at Apple for not having its contributions to a Bluetooth tracker misuse standard ready in July 2023, the spec has just seen an update and Apple’s fingerprints are all over it.

A new “Find My Device Network” was proposed earlier in 2023, and the joint standard draft was released at about the same time. The spec has advanced in recent days, and what appears to be a final draft was published on December 20.

Tracking devices generally rely on specific device ecosystems to work, such as iPhones and the Find My network for AirTag. However, notifications are also device-dependent, so iPhone users will see anti-stalking notifications if an extra AirTag is in their bag, but an Android device wouldn’t, unless it is actively being searched for with the relevant safety app.

The new standard is intended to make iPhone and Android users both get the warnings, regardless of whether the tracker is an AirTag or another compatible with Android.

“Apple launched AirTag to give users the peace of mind knowing where to find their most important items,” said Ron Huang, Apple’s vice president of Sensing and Connectivity during the launch. “We built AirTag and the Find My network with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking — a first in the industry — and we continue to make improvements to help ensure the technology is being used as intended.”

Google has essentially the same opinion about Bluetooth tracking, and potential interoperability.

“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. “Android has an unwavering commitment to protecting users, and will continue to develop strong safeguards and collaborate with the industry to help combat the misuse of Bluetooth tracking devices.”

The specification was submitted as an Internet-Draft through the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a standards development organization. The specification was open until August for review and comment from external parties.

At the time, the joint release said Apple and Google would address feedback and make adjustments after the period has ended. The first review period ended in August.

Other companies have also expressed support for the initiative, including Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, eufy Security, and Pebblebee. It’s not clear if these other companies have made feedback, or how involved they are in the standard. Apple and Google researchers are the primary contributors.

Apple employees cited in the draft are Brent Ledvina, and Ben Detwiler. Ledvina is a researcher with a large amount of scientific publications regarding GPS and wireless spoofing and tracking. Detwiler is a Senior Software Engineering Manager at Apple with a specific focus on AirTags and proximity features like CoreLocation.





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