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Enhancing User Safety: Google Rolls Out ‘Unknown Tracker Alerts’ for Android Users

Google is taking a significant step to enhance user safety by introducing a new safety feature known as “Unknown Tracker Alerts” for Android users. The feature, which was initially announced at the Google I/O developer event, is aimed at detecting potential stalkers who might be using Bluetooth tracking devices like Apple AirTags to track unsuspecting individuals.

Starting today, Android users will receive automatic alerts if an unknown Bluetooth device is detected traveling with them. This could indicate that someone is attempting to stalk them using a tracking device. To bolster security, users will also have the option to manually scan their surroundings for potential trackers using their Android device. If a tracking device is found, the user will be guided on the next steps to take.

The need for this safety feature arose due to the misuse of Bluetooth tracking, with reports of people employing AirTags for stalking and illegal activities, such as tracking vehicles for potential theft. In response to these concerns, Apple had taken measures to address privacy issues with AirTags, but these changes did not directly benefit Android users.

However, in May, Apple and Google jointly announced their plan to develop an industry-wide specification to alert users about unwanted tracking from Bluetooth devices. The finalized specification is expected to be ready by the end of the year.

Taking proactive steps to protect Android users, Google introduced improvements to its Find My Device network and initiated alerts regarding potential trackers traveling with them. This custom implementation seeks to safeguard Android users ahead of the official joint specification. Apple, on the other hand, has opted to wait for the joint spec’s implementation rather than rolling out its own custom version in the meantime.

The new Unknown Tracker Alerts feature will send notifications to Android users if an unknown tracker is detected in their vicinity. Users can then view a map of where the tracker was last seen and even play a sound to help locate the device. Additionally, if the device is found, users can obtain more information about the owner by bringing the tracker near the back of their phone.

The safety feature also provides guidance on how to disable the Bluetooth device entirely, ensuring the owner can no longer track the user or receive future updates from the tracker.

Unknown Tracker Alerts

For added control, users can manually scan their surroundings for potential Bluetooth trackers by accessing the “Unknown Tracker Alerts” option under “Safety & Emergency” in Android’s Settings. This manual scan takes around 10 seconds to complete and offers tips on what to do if a tracker is found, eliminating the need to wait for automatic alerts.

Furthermore, Google had previously announced plans to update its Find My Device network to help users locate other missing items, such as headphones, phones, luggage, and keys, through third-party Bluetooth tracker tags. This feature would also support popular tracker brands like Tile, Chipolo, and Pebblebee, as well as audio devices like Pixel Buds and headphones from Sony and JBL. However, this update has been put on hold as Google collaborates with Apple to finalize the joint unwanted tracker alert specification.

Google has decided to delay the rollout of the Find My Device network until Apple implements the necessary protections for iOS, reflecting the companies’ commitment to addressing user safety and security concerns jointly.

Google has made the Android 14 beta available.

Google’s Android development cycle runs on a rather predictable cadence these days. Today, after two developer previews, the company launched the first of four planned public beta releases of Android 14. As with previous versions, the first beta is also the first release that anyone can install over-the-air, assuming they have a supported Pixel device, going back to the Pixel 4a 5G (but not the Pixel 4).

There’s no official support for non-Google phones yet. As always, keep in mind that these are betas for a reason and still mostly meant for developers who want to test their apps against this new version and early adopters who just can’t wait for the stable release. Things can — and will — break.

For the most part, there aren’t many new features in this beta version, though there are two user-facing UI updates worth calling out. The first is a new back arrow (yes — we’ve reached the point in mobile OS history where new back arrows are pretty much the most exciting thing). As Google notes, the gesture navigation experience now “includes a more prominent back arrow while interacting with an app to help improve back gesture understanding and usefulness.” This arrow will match your wallpaper or device theme. Exciting stuff.

Developers will now also be able to add custom actions to the system sharesheet, and the sharesheet will now be smarter about how it ranks your sharing targets.

Otherwise, there isn’t all that much new here. Per-app language settings are here, as are Google’s previously announced new privacy settings.

I expect we’ll hear a bit more about what’s new in Android 14 — and see more user-facing features — at Google I/O next month. For now, though, this appears to be another evolutionary release.