Google is said to be on the heels of Apple’s AirTag Prepare your own personal tracker Just in time for Google I/O 2023. These new trackers are codenamed Grogu after the popular character Baby Yoda the mandalorian, aim to harness the power of Android’s Google Play Services-enabled devices (3 billion count) to create a personal tracking network so powerful it rivals Apple’s.
The bad part? Google is creating a personal tracking network so large it rivals Apple’s.
Google laid the groundwork for this feature set in updates to Google Play Services detailed by prolific developers and leakers Kuba Wojciechowski. These updates have brought locator tag support to Google’s Fast Pair feature, with the company also reportedly working with several device partners to develop their own trackers.
While there’s no timeline for the announcement of this technology, the aforementioned May Google I/O conference seems like a good guess. And just like Apple before it, Google seems poised to stumble and fall head over heels into controversy.
Apple’s AirTag knows controversy all too well
the The AirTags controversy is simple. They are small, cheap, low-cost trackers that help people keep track of their luggage and other belongings, as well as for more nefarious purposes like stalking people and pinning people for robberies. Apple added anti-stalking capabilities to AirTags over the past year, but the incidents keep repeating themselves (with lawsuits and laws to accompany them) because — well, AirTags are good at their job.
To make these tracker tags infinitely more useful and powerful than the competition, Google and Apple both leverage large installed bases of billions of people on their platforms. With Apple’s Find My Network and near-ubiquitous Google Play services in places where Apple is weak, buying an AirTag and a hypothetical Google tag could leave even more people vulnerable to stalkers and robbers.
Surely Google has a better chance of getting things right here. Apple AirTags have been around for several years and the company has made a few bugs that updates have corrected. Google could simply incorporate these fixes into its own tags and neutralize the problem directly.
But it’s not as if Google is learning from Apple’s mistakes in all cases. Sometimes the company goes back to more sophisticated technological approaches and replaces them with Apple’s implementations. Google could learn from them and at the end of the day come out with superior, more privacy-focused products, but there’s a good chance that won’t be the case.
Google has never been known for its privacy practices, and AirTags represent an untapped market for the company’s Android partners. At the end of the day, the tracking milk is spilled, the toothpaste can’t go back in the tub, and other boring metaphors of that sort.
Google could learn from Apple’s mistakes, but there’s a good chance they won’t.
The problem remains that any product that’s good at tracking things is also inherently good at tracking people. And Apple isn’t the only provider of such devices, of course, which also includes inexpensive Bluetooth trackers.
It’s not as if Apple, Google, or Amazon would eliminate their products by immediately reducing illegal tracking options to zero. Rather, these companies willingly make it cheaper, easier, and more convenient to secretly follow people without their consent.
Whether it’s legal or not is a question. Whether the value of finding a lost wallet or keys outweighs potential or actual security concerns is quite another.