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Apple and Google have agreed to work on a joint solution that allows the phones of both companies to detect if a Bluetooth locator, a small device the size of a button that serves to find lost objects, is being used to follow in real time the location of the user, a growing problem derived from the popularization of these small devices.
Bluetooth locators, such as Apple's own AirTags or Tile, are devices that emit a low-power Bluetooth signal that can be located by a phone. They are designed to hook or adhere to objects that can be lost, such as keys, a bicycle, a backpack or a wallet. If the object is lost, the phone can detect its presence within a radius of several tens of meters and even orient the user to the exact position in which it is.
One of the advantages is that, although the detection radius is short, any other phone that passes near the object can also receive the signal and send the notification to the owner. If someone forgets a backpack with an AirTag in a coffee shop, for example, the iPhone of someone sitting nearby afterwards can help the rightful owner find it.
The system works quite well, especially in areas with a high density of phones, but it also opens the door for these locators to be used to follow people, dropping them inside a bag or hiding them in a car, for example. When Apple launched the AirTag, this was one of the concerns of the company, which implemented several tools to prevent this possible harmful use. If an iPhone detects a nearby AirTag moving next to the user, for example, it will display an alert with instructions to disable it. The locator itself will also make a sound.
But if the person someone is trying to follow has an Android, things get complicated, because there is no native support for this type of notifications on the phone. It is possible to install applications that do this same function but not all users do it. If a locator from another brand, such as Samsung, Tile, or Chipolo, is used, iPhone users aren't necessarily safe either.
The idea is that from this collaboration agreement emerges a standard that allows any phone to be able to detect any Bluetooth locator that is being used to follow the owner. "This new specification builds on AirTag's protections, and through collaboration with Google takes a critical step to help combat unwanted tracking on both iOS and Android," said Ron Huang, vice president of connectivity at Apple.
Several non-governmental organizations, such as the US platform National Network to End Domestic Violence, focused on the protection of victims of domestic violence, have also collaborated on the proposal. "These new rules will minimize the opportunities for abuse of this technology," the organization explains.
Both companies have committed to integrate these protection measures into their platforms before the end of the year.
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