Another tracking analytics app highlights the need for a better way to protect victims from digital harassment

ByLance T. Lee

Mar 25, 2022

The first tracking devices such as Tiles and AirTags have appeared, marketed as button-sized smart Bluetooth gadgets that can find your lost backpack. Then, after bad actors started using the devices to stalk or track people, scanning apps came along to help victims find out if those same gadgets were tracking. their.

Such is the twisted and dangerous path of tracking devices in the wrong hands. That device makers are rolling out analytics apps that can potentially help victims of harassment is a victory for privacy, but with some big asterisks. Tile’s new scanning app shows why.

The company, which has sold more than 40 million trackers, is the latest manufacturer to roll out a scanning app. Its Scan & Secure feature allows users to determine if someone is tracking them using a Tile product. This follows Apple’s introduction in December of an Android app called Tracker Detect that lets Android device users know if someone is tracking them with its popular AirTag device or other devices with Tracker-enabled sensors. the Apple Find My network.

As we noted when Apple released the Android app, AirTags are an order of magnitude more dangerous than other device trackers, because Apple has made sure that every iPhone doesn’t get disengaged. specifically in a part of the Bluetooth tracking network that AirTags use to communicate, i.e. AirTags. ‘ range is much larger than other trackers. Almost all of us come across Bluetooth-enabled iPhones several times a day, even if we don’t know it.

To use the Tile scanner, you need to download the Tile app on your phone and tap Scan & Secure under settings. Users have to walk around or walk away from where they launched the app, which will scan six times to detect Tiles and Tile-enabled devices that might be traveling with them. The app displays scan results showing both known and unknown Tiles and Tile-enabled devices it detected and how many times they appeared in the six scans.

The main weakness of this mitigation is the need to download an app and proactively run a scan to find out if someone is following you. Victims of stalking or domestic violence may be completely unaware that a device is tracking them, let alone what type of device is being used. For scanning apps to be effective, a tracking target should know what device is being used, then find and download a scanning app for that device. A world in which survivors of harassment and abuse have to download a separate app for each type of physical scanner and use it to run dozens of individual scans is better than what we have now, but it’s not a solution that evolves well.

The EFF is calling on physical tracker manufacturers to agree and publish an industry standard that would allow developers to integrate physical tracking detection into mobile apps and operating systems. We continue to call on these tech giants to work together to address the threats their users face from ubiquitous, cheap and powerful physical trackers. It is easy for stalkers to use these devices to harass and threaten their victims. It should be easier for victims to know if this is happening to them so they can protect themselves.

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