Google Integrates Bluetooth Tracker Detection Into Android

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

About APK Insight: In this “APK Insight” article, we decompiled the latest version of an app that Google uploaded to the Play Store. When we decompile these files (called APKs, in the case of Android apps), we are able to see various lines of code in them which hint at possible future functionality. Keep in mind that Google may or may not ship these features, and our interpretation of what they are may be flawed. We’ll try to allow the ones that are close to completion, however, to show you what they’ll look like in case they ship. With that in mind, read on.

Apple released “Tracker Detection” late last year to allow Android users to find nearby AirTags, while the sticker launched a similar solution this month. Android now seems to integrate a similar tag parsing feature directly into it.

1: | tiles 2-4: Apple

In mid-March, Google began working on Play Services capability, which should enable wide availability on modern Android devices. The latest version (22.12.13) now directly references “Unknown Device Alerts” and an “Unknown Beacon Detected Notification” for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons:

Unfamiliar Device Prompts

Unfamiliar notification detected by tag

Next come three types of beacons:

  • ATag
  • Finder tag
  • Tile tag

The “Tile” branding is obvious, while “ATag” is likely a reference to Apple Tags or AirTags. It is not clear what “Finder tag” refers to.

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

Note: you may not be able to ring the beacon if its ID has recently changed

Update 3/30: We have since enabled where “Unknown Device Alerts” options may appear (Settings app > Security & Emergency).

Bluetooth tracker detection in Android is still in early development, and many questions remain. Apple’s Android app for detecting AirTags and Tile’s solution require users to manually initiate a scan for nearby trackers. It doesn’t automatically work in the background to find trackers that move with you, like on the iPhone. Meanwhile, iOS enables precise tracking via Ultra Wideband (UWB), with a handful of Android phones offering this sensor.

With the strings we have today, it’s not clear if Android detection will just be a scanner or something more proactive. The latter would obviously be the ideal security feature, but the former is still better than requiring end users to know how to download a separate app from the Play Store first.

Another unknown is whether Google, Apple, Tile, Samsung and other beacon 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.

Thanks to JEB decompiler, which some APK Insight teardowns benefit from.

Dylan Roussel contributed to this article

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