Practical for locating stolen or lost objects, GPS trackers like the AirTag are also used to spy on people by tracking them. Fortunately, on Android as on iPhone, there is a function to detect these cookies.
Bluetooth GPS trackers have been around for a long time. But it was Apple which popularized this type of accessory with its famous AirTag. Very affordable – it is sold for less than 40 euros – this small, round, thin box can fit anywhere – on a set of keys, at the bottom of a bag, on a suitcase, in a pocket, in a wallet , under a saddle of two wheels, in a car, etc. – and allows its owner to locate it precisely in just a few moments. Practical for finding your belongings in the event of loss or theft!
But, as is often the case with technology, this clever gadget was quickly diverted from its initial use. And malicious people started using it for espionage purposes. It is enough to discreetly slip an AirTag onto luggage or under a vehicle, for example, to track someone without their knowledge. And always know where it is exactly, by locating it on a smartphone in real time. A formidable technique for tracking a spouse suspected of infidelity, a teenager who skips school, a rival or a competitor. Not to mention the thieves who spot rich potential victims in a train station, an airport or a parking lot before going to rob them at their home, or the sexual predators who find there an easy way to track their prey. Not very reassuring…
A function to detect spy trackers
And don’t think that these are paranoid fantasies: many cases of this type have been reported by the media all over the world since AirTags appeared on the market. Especially since other products of the same type exist: Samsung also has in its catalog of trackers, SmartTags, which offer approximately the same functions, as does a host of small Chinese manufacturers for whom security and confidentiality are sometimes abstract concepts.
These detestable and dangerous practices obviously alerted Apple, which took several precautions to prevent its small tracker from being used for spying purposes, by integrating an unknown AirTag detection function into iOS, its operating system for mobile. And Google followed suit recently, developing a similar feature. In fact, any smartphone can now detect the presence of a spy tracker nearby.
Since August 2023, Google has implemented a system for detecting unknown AirTags on Android smartphones. This function covers all versions of the system from Android 6, i.e. almost all Android devices in circulation. A small adjustment then allows you to activate the alerts. Meet in the Settings from the phone to the section Security and Emergency and press Unknown tracker alerts. Activate alerts if you have not already done so. If in doubt, you can even do a search to check that no AirTag (which actually uses a Bluetooth connection and the Find My network generated by nearby iPhones) is nearby.
If an unknown AirTag is found, you will receive an alert. You can then ring it – without its owner knowing – in order to find it. If you get your hands on it, all you have to do is place it on the back of the smartphone (provided it has an NFC chip) to see the information concerning it displayed, in particular if it has been declared lost .
If this is not the case, it is strongly recommended to deactivate it by removing the battery. Tracker detection on Android currently only concerns Apple AirTags, but Google plans to add other models soon. In addition, Apple also offers its free app for Android, Tracker Detect, available on the Google Play Store which also allows you to find unknown AirTags.
On iPhone, automatic detection is built into the system. An alert appears on the screen as soon as the iPhone detects the presence of a device on the Find network (such as an AirTag or even AirPods) nearby for a certain time and its owner is not nearby. You can then identify the spy device and deactivate it if you suspect it of following you without your knowledge by following the instructions displayed on the screen. A simple and effective way to detect any tracking attempt!