Apple and Google unite to protect you from tracker stalkers

iOS and a new Android app make it harder for strangers to tag and track you without your knowledge

AirTag detection in iOS 17.5
(Image credit: Apple)

iOS got an important new feature last night, and it's part of a collaboration between Apple and Google: the iOS update includes support for the Detecting Unwanted Location Trackers specification both firms support, in order to ensure that people can't stick an AirTag or Google Find My tracker on your stuff without you knowing about it.

The inclusion in iOS is significant because it means that tracker detection won't just work on Apple's network for Apple's trackers and Google's one for Google trackers. Irrespective of where the tracker came from, your iPhone will tell you that an item has been found moving with you. You'll then be able to trigger a noise that'll help you find it, or to disable it.

While the feature is now baked into iOS, if you're on Android you'll need to install a stand-alone app called Tracker Detect. It's available from the Play Store here. 

What to do if you get an alert about an unknown tracker

Trackers can come in various formats: the luggage tag-style trackers we're all familiar with, earbuds such as AirPods, or Find My-compatible hardware from third parties. So the first thing to do when you get an alert is remember whether you've borrowed, say, a friend's AirPods. 

If not, the next step is to tap on the notification that says "X Found Moving With You", where X is the type of tracked item your phone has spotted. This will open up the Find My app, and it'll show you on a map where it's detected you and the mysterious item travelling together. You'll see a prominent Play Sound link that will make the item reveal itself. If that doesn't work, Apple advises you to search everywhere and if you still can't find the item, contact law enforcement.

Once you've found the item, if it's an AirTag or AirPod you can hold it close to your iPhone and after a short delay its information should pop up, including the last four digits of its registered owner's phone number. You can then disable the AirTag or other item.

The Android app isn't identical but it does work in a similar way: you can use the app to scan for AirTags or similar trackers and again, play a sound on any detected item.

The hope, of course, is that you won't need to use this new feature or app. But unfortunately if there's a way for tech to be abused, sooner or later it will be. So while it's taken a long time for this detection to become available, it's good to have it as standard in iOS.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).