Useful for locating stolen or misplaced objects, GPS trackers like AirTag are also used to spy on people by tracking them. Fortunately, on both Android and iPhone, there's a function to detect these devices. Here's how.
Bluetooth GPS trackers have been around for a long time. Apple popularized this type of accessory with its famous AirTag. It is extremely affordable, costing less than 40 euros. It can be placed discreetly anywhere – on a set of keys, at the bottom of a bag, on a suitcase, in a pocket, in a wallet, under the seat of a two-wheeler, in a car, and so on. In just a few moments, it allows users to track their belongings and locate them quickly, which is very handy for finding lost or stolen items.
However, as is often the case with technology, this clever gadget was soon diverted from its original purpose, and malicious individuals began using it for espionage purposes. By discreetly attaching an AirTag to luggage or hiding it under a vehicle, for example, you can monitor someone's location without their awareness, knowing exactly where they are at all times through real-time smartphone tracking. This technique has been employed for various purposes, including tracking a suspected unfaithful partner, a truant teenager, a rival, or a competitor. It has also been exploited by thieves who target potential victims in train stations, airports, or parking lots before robbing them at home, as well as by sexual predators tracking their prey. These developments are not very reassuring.
How to detect if you are being traced
Numerous cases of such misuse have been reported in the media worldwide since AirTag first appeared on the market. Moreover, other products of the same type exist; Samsung offers SmartTag trackers, and numerous small Chinese manufacturers produce similar devices, sometimes with abstract concepts of security and confidentiality.
These detestable and dangerous practices have alerted Apple, which has taken several precautions to prevent its tracker from being used for espionage. It has integrated an unknown AirTag detection function into iOS, its mobile operating system. Google has also followed suit and developed a similar feature. Any smartphone today can detect the presence of a spy tracker in its vicinity.
Since August 2023, Google has implemented a system to detect unknown AirTags on Android smartphones. This function covers all versions of the system from Android 6 onwards, which includes almost all Android devices currently in circulation. You can activate alerts by going to Phone Settings in the Security & Emergency section and selecting Unknown Tracker Alerts. If you haven't already done so, we recommend enabling these alerts. If in doubt, you can even run a search to check if any AirTag, which uses a Bluetooth connection and the Find My network generated by surrounding iPhones, is nearby.
If an unknown AirTag is found, you will receive an alert. You can then ring it (without the owner's knowledge) to locate it. If you obtain the AirTag, simply touch it on the back of your smartphone (provided it has an NFC chip), and you will see information about it, including whether it has been reported as lost.
If it has not been reported as lost, we strongly recommend deactivating it by removing the battery. Currently, tracker detection on Android only covers Apple's AirTag, but Google plans to add support for other models in the future. Additionally, Apple offers its free Tracker Detect app for Android, available on the Google Play Store, which also detects unknown AirTags.
On the iPhone, automatic detection is built into the system. An alert appears on the screen as soon as the iPhone detects that a device in the Tracker network (such as an AirTag or even AirPods) has been nearby for some time and its owner is not in the vicinity. By following the on-screen instructions, you can then identify the spy device and deactivate it if you suspect it's tracking you without your knowledge. This provides a simple and effective way to detect any attempt to track your location.