Google building Bluetooth tracker detection into Android

By | March 30, 2022


While Apple in no way invented Bluetooth trackers, AirTags undoubtedly popularized the category this past year. There are ongoing concerns about these readily available devices being used to track people and tag makers have taken steps to counter that. Google might soon add a Bluetooth tracker detection capability directly into Android.

About APK Insight: In this “APK Insight” post, we’ve decompiled the latest version of an application that Google uploaded to the Play Store. When we decompile these files (called APKs, in the case of Android apps), we’re able to see various lines of code within that hint at possible future features. Keep in mind that Google may or may not ever ship these features, and our interpretation of what they are may be imperfect. We’ll try to enable those that are closer to being finished, however, to show you how they’ll look in case that they do ship. With that in mind, read on.

Apple released “Tracker Detect” at the end of last year to let Android users find nearby AirTags, while Tile launched a similar solution this month. Android now looks to be directly integrating a similar tag scanning feature.

1: Tile | 2-4: Apple

In mid-March, Google started working on the capability in Play services, which should allow for wide availability on modern Android devices. The latest version (22.12.13) today directly references “Unfamiliar device alerts” and a “Unfamiliar Tag Detected Notification” for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tags:

<string name=”ble_tag_settings_activity_label”>Unfamiliar device alerts</string>

<string name=”unfamiliar_tag_channel_name”>Unfamiliar Tag Detected Notification</string> 

This is followed by three types of tags:

  • <string name=”atag_device_name”>ATag</string>
  • <string name=”finder_device_name”>Finder tag</string>
  • <string name=”tile_device_name”>Tile tag</string>

The “Tile” brand is evident, while “ATag” is likely a reference to Apple tags or AirTags. It’s unclear what “Finder tag” is referring to.

Once a tag is identified by your Android device, you might be able to ring it: 

<string name=”mac_address_note”>Note: You may not be able to ring the tag if its id has changed recently</string>

Bluetooth tracker detection in Android is still very much in early development and many questions remain. Apple’s Android application for detecting AirTags and Tile’s solution require users to manually initiate a scan of nearby trackers. It does not work automatically in the background to find trackers that are moving with you, like on the iPhone. Meanwhile, iOS allows for exact location via Ultra Wideband (UWB), which some Android phones feature.

With the strings available to us today, it’s unclear whether the Android detection will simply be a scanner or something more proactive. The latter would obviously be the ideal safety feature, but the former is still better than requiring end users to first know to download a separate application from the Play Store.

Another unknown is whether Google, Apple, Tile, Samsung, and other tag makers are jointly working on this capability. Given people’s concerns, it would be a good idea for the industry to come together on an interoperable solution.

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