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Finally: Apple and Google announced an initiative to create an industry specification for tracking devices.They just submitted a joint draft proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The specification looks to address the issue of stalking by making Bluetooth trackers compatible across platforms.
The draft proposes "best practices and instructions" on incorporating tracking into various products that will operate fluidly on iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and Android. In other words, Apple and Google have decided to play nice and create a nonproprietary crowd-sourced tracking solution that will help users identify when someone is tracking them, no matter which operating system or tracker they decide to use.
The initiative has already gotten commitments to support the specification from Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, eufy Security, and Pebblebee. Consumers and other industry professionals have 90 days to submit feedback on the draft proposal to the IETF. Apple and Google will address feedback by modifying the draft and finalizing it by November 3. The two companies will then work together to develop compatible tracking software for their respective operating systems by the end of the year.
Fob manufacturers will also have creation requirements to meet the intended specification. Devices must exceed a minimum size (250 cm^3) to be considered "easily discoverable." They will also have to use the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol. Of course, the trackers must allow crowd-sourced location tracking to function correctly. Most trackers currently meet these and a few other requirements listed in the draft but things could change as feedback is addressed. Companies will most likely try to ensure as much backward compatibility as possible.
Apple and Google have assembled a team to handle the draft and oversee the subsequent application of the specification. The team includes:
- Location Software Senior Manager Brent Ledvina, Apple
- Senior Software Engineering Manager Ben Detwiler, Apple
- Staff Software Engineer Siddika Parlak Polatkan, Google
- Product Manager Zachary Eddinger, Android
"Apple launched AirTag to give users the peace of mind knowing where to find their most important items," said Apple's Vice President of Sensing and Connectivity Ron Huang. "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. This new industry specification builds upon the AirTag protections, and through collaboration with Google results in a critical step forward to help combat unwanted tracking across iOS and Android."
Ironically, Apple's "first in the industry" countermeasures called attention to the potential to abuse the devices. Trackr, Tile, and others sold tracking fobs for years without reports of stalking incidents. Once Apple began bragging about its countermeasures, occurrences of malicious individuals using the fobs for everything from stalking to car theft began hitting the news cycle. What's worse was that those manufacturers, who had never had those issues, could not take advantage of Apple's proprietary solution. So it's nice to see Apple finally working with other tracking providers to fix a problem it inadvertently created.