Apple launches AirTags and Find My detector app for Android, in effort to boost privacy
Apple's following through on a promise to help Android users identify nearby AirTags and Find My trackers that aren't with their owners.
Ian SherrFormer Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
The new app, which Apple released on the Google Play store Monday, is intended to help people look for item trackers compatible with Apple's Find My network. "If you think someone is using AirTag or another device to track your location," the app says, "you can scan to try to find it."
Apple's Tracker Detect app for Android marks another effort to bolster Find My network device privacy, and comes about half a year after its AirTags went on sale for $29 apiece, or $99 for a four-pack. Apple imagined the devices as an easy way to find lost keys, book bags and other objects using Apple's Find My network technology. Apple also touted the device's security, with frequently changing unique identifying codes for each AirTag, to deter hacking and unintended tracking. The devices also use encrypted communication.
If the Tracker Detector app finds an unexpected AirTag that's away from its owner, for example, it will be marked in the app as "Unknown AirTag." The Android app can then play a sound within 10 minutes of identifying the tracker. It may take up to 15 minutes after a tracker is separated from its owner before it shows up in the app, Apple said.
If the tracker identified is an AirTag, Apple will offer instructions within the app to remove its battery. Apple also warns within the app that if the person feels their safety is at risk because of the item tracker, they should contact law enforcement.
"AirTag provides industry leading privacy and security features and today we are extending new capabilities to Android devices," an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. "Tracker Detect gives Android users the ability to scan for an AirTag or supported Find My enabled item trackers that might be traveling with them without their knowledge. We are raising the bar on privacy for our users and the industry, and hope others will follow."
Privacy advocates warned earlier this year that Apple AirTags could be used as a way to track and stalk people. Critics noted that because Apple's Find My network has more than 1 billion active iPhones and other devices that quietly share the location of any AirTags or other Find My devices nearby, it likely has greater reach than any other device tracking service. They also noted that Apple built proactive warnings about nearby AirTags into its iPhones, but that it didn't offer support for other phones at the time.
Apple in June updated its AirTags with new software meant to deter abuse by adjusting the amount of time before an AirTag alerts a nonowner to its presence, shortening it to between 8 and 24 hours, from its initially designed three days.
The Tracker Detect app, which Apple first discussed in June, requires users to actively scan for a device before it'll be identified. Apple doesn't require users have an Apple account in order to use the detecting app.
If the AirTag is in "lost mode," anyone with an NFC-capable device can tap it and receive instructions for how to return it to its owner. Apple said all communication is encrypted so that no one, including Apple, knows the location or identity of people or their devices.