Apple has a long history of trying to ignore Android’s existence whenever possible. At best, Android is an afterthought, but at other times, Apple’s willful ignorance can have dire consequences. The controversy surrounding Apple AirTags, and how easily they can be exploited for stalking, is one such example.
AirTags’ greatest strength, the sheer reach of Apple’s Find My network, is also its greatest weakness. Because there are so many iPhones in the world, and because each iPhone can detect nearby AirTags, tracking down a lost AirTag is significantly easier than a competing tracker. They can only be detected by phones with the relevant app installed, which are much fewer.
This unfortunate drawback is that AirTags have been exploited to track people, mostly women, without their knowledge and to a terrifying degree. This forced Apple to act, offering several updates to ensure that unknown AirTags can be found quickly and easily. But, like so many other Apple efforts, those updates are aimed solely at iPhone users.
Sadly, horrible people don’t discriminate based on what kind of phone you use. If a stalker wants to track a person using AirTags, the victim’s phone choice will not play a role. Apple needs to do a lot more to prevent AirTags from being used to stalk people whose only crime is not owning an iPhone.
Apple hasn’t done anything, but it’s not enough
If you own an iPhone, it’s pretty easy to detect AirTags that seem to be tracking you. If the iPhone detects that the AirTag has been with you for a while, or that it’s moving with you, it warns you that an unknown AirTag is nearby. Manually searching for unknown devices in the Find My app is also an option.
Once a fraudulent AirTag has been detected, you can use the Find My app to force the tag to play a sound or track it down using the Precision Tracking feature.
This all depends on Apple’s Find My app, which isn’t available on Android. To its credit, Apple didn’t completely ignore Android devices and launched the Tracker Detect app in December 2021. Unfortunately. this app doesn’t run in the background like Find My does and only lets you start a manual scan.
It’s not nothing, but it depends on people constantly being proactive and looking for AirTags that may or may not be nearby. Rather. the Android app, by sheer coincidence, cannot differentiate between AirTags tracking you and any AirTags that are nearby, limiting its usefulness.
Likewise, Apple has updated AirTags so that they start making noises when they’re away from one of their owners’ devices for too long. However, this only kicks in after 24 hours, which is enough time for a stalker to either do something malicious or see enough of your routine for them to take action later.
As many critics have pointed out, the beep of an AirTag isn’t particularly loud. If it’s been well hidden you could easily not hear it.
What else can Apple do about AirTag stalking and Android?
One thing Apple could do is give Android users the chance to track AirTags from their phones. The upside is that this app could work in the background to search for unknown AirTags and provide Android users with a similar level of security that iPhone users currently enjoy.
Google has previously announced that it is working on some kind of tracker safety feature that will be built into Android, but nothing has been said about that since mid-last year. And since even Apple’s own AirTag updates depend on phones being updated, and given Android’s messy OEM updates, a number of people probably won’t be able to access them for a few years.
Asking Apple to step in and provide a viable first-party AirTag detection app on Android isn’t unreasonable, and it’s certainly possible to achieve. There’s even a third-party app called AirGuard (opens in new tab), which is capable of detecting stray trackers that appear to be following you and notifying you about them. That includes Apple’s AirTags, other Find My connected devices, and rival products like Tile.
It’s not perfect, and takes a bit of time to let you know there’s an unknown tracker nearby, but the fact that it can do this automatically (once installed) means it’s a step up from what Apple’s Android-based offers users. The best part is that AirGuard is free to use, which is not always the case with other apps that advertise themselves as AirTag detectors.
However, given all the issues and reports that have come out about AirTag stalking, it shouldn’t be necessary for a third party to step in and cover Apple’s failures.
Preventing AirTag stalking shouldn’t be the end of it
This problem stems from a broader problem. The fact that if you’re not an iPhone user, you’re almost irrelevant to Apple.
Sometimes Apple throws a bone at Android users in very bizarre ways. Apple Music is available on Android, but Apple TV Plus is not. AirPods can be used with an Android phone, albeit without the special iPhone-focused features, but you can only buy and track your own AirTag if you also have an iPad or Mac.
Apple has also stubbornly refused to admit that Apple/Android messages need to be more secure and feature-rich than regular SMS and MMS can provide. The company killed an attempt to bring iMessage to Android and has refused to implement the more secure RCS messages on iPhones. You shouldn’t talk to people who use Android; evidently, you should buy them iPhones instead.
Android users are out there, and they’re pretty obvious — iMessage’s green bubbles have taken care of that. It’s about time Apple pulled its head out of the sand and acknowledged them a little more. If only to make sure they aren’t endangered by horrible people who wield AirTags.
What to do if you find a strange AirTag
There are a few ways to find fraudulent AirTags, but if you ever find one on your person, make sure you go about it the right way. The first is to press the center of the back panel and remove it by turning the panel counterclockwise. This will give you access to the CR2032 battery, which you should remove. Without the battery, the AirTag is completely inactive.
The serial number of the AirTag is also visible from the inside. You must make a report and then report the entire incident to the police. Keep that AirTag in a safe place (minus the battery) and hand it over to the police if they ask. Apple can use the serial number to identify the original owner of the AirTags and law enforcement can take appropriate action.