Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

Google’s AirTag copycat could be incredible — and that scares me

Coming on the heels of Apple’s AirTag, Google is now expected to be preparing its own personal tracker just in time for Google I/O 2023. These new trackers, code-named Grogu after the popular Baby Yoda character from The Mandalorian, are aimed at leveraging the power of Android’s Google Play Services-equipped devices (numbering 3 billion) 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.

AirTag next to an iPhone.
Digital Trends / Digital Trends

Google has been laying the foundation for this feature set in updates to Google Play Services detailed by prolific developer and leaker Kuba Wojciechowski. These updates have brought in support for locator tags to Google’s Fast Pair feature, with the company also reportedly working with multiple device partners to build their own trackers.

Though there is no time frame for this technology to be announced, the aforementioned Google I/O conference in May seems like a good guess. And just like with Apple before it, Google seems set to trip and fall headlong into controversy.

Apple’s AirTag knows controversy all too well

The controversy around AirTags is simple. They are small, cheap, inexpensive trackers that have been used to help people keep track of their luggage and other belongings, as well as for more nefarious purposes like stalking people and setting people up for robberies. Apple has added anti-stalking features to AirTags over the past year, but the incidents keep recurring (with lawsuits and legislation accompanying them) because — well, AirTags are good at their jobs.

Nomad Apple TV Siri Remote Case with an AirTag installed.
Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

To make these tracker tags infinitely more useful and powerful than competitors’, Google and Apple both leverage large installed bases of billions of people across their platforms. With Apple’s Find My Network and the near ubiquity of Google Play Services in locations where Apple is weak, buying an AirTag and a hypothetical Google tag could leave even more people vulnerable to stalkers and robbers.

Certainly, Google has a better chance of doing things right here. Apple AirTags has been out for several years and the company has made a few mistakes that updates have corrected. Google could simply build in those corrections into its own tags and neuter the problem outright.

A Google tracker can only make things worse

But it’s not as if Google learns from Apple’s mistakes in all cases. Sometimes, the company walks back more thoughtful technological approaches and replaces them with Apple’s implementations. Google could learn from them and come out with superior, more privacy-focused products at the end of the day, but it’s more likely than not that it won’t.

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 has already been spilled, the toothpaste can’t be put back in the tub, and other tedious metaphors of that kind.

Google could learn from Apple’s mistakes, but it’s more likely than not that it won’t.

The issue remains that any product which is good at tracking things is inherently one that’s good at tracking people. And Apple, of course, isn’t the only purveyor of such devices, which include inexpensive Bluetooth trackers.

A close-up shot of the Google Pixel 6a, focused on the phone's Google logo.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

It’s not as if Apple, Google, or Amazon eliminating their products would instantly drop the illicit tracking options to zero. Rather, these companies are willingly making it cheaper, easier, and more convenient to surreptitiously follow people without their consent.

Whether it’s legal or not is one question. Whether the value of finding a lost wallet or keys outweighs potential or actual safety concerns is another entirely.

Editors' Recommendations

Michael Allison
A UK-based tech journalist for Digital Trends, helping keep track and make sense of the fast-paced world of tech with a…
Apple and Google are teaming up to make tracking devices less creepy
Apple AirTag lifestyle image.

Apple and Google are partnering to develop a new standard for Bluetooth tracking devices that seeks to stop malicious stalking and other abusive use of gadgets like the Apple AirTag. Essentially, this would be a universal, OS-level tracker detection and alert system that will work uniformly across Android and iOS. The two companies are inviting stakeholders to review the proposal and submit their feedback within the next three months.

Once the feedback period is over, all the involved parties will work together to finalize the technical standardization, with the hope of releasing a market-ready version by the end of the year. Following the release and adoption by makers of tracking devices, the tech will be generally made available via a software update for Android and iOS devices.
Better late than never

Read more
The U.S. government is now using AirTag trackers to spy on packages
Person holding an Apple AirTag.

Apple raised some eyebrows late last year when the company revealed that it actively works with law enforcement officials in cases involving the misuse of its object tracker. The admission came after a litany of cases where AirTag trackers were exploited for stalking and theft. Apple even got slapped with a lawsuit for the whole drama. But it appears that other government agencies have also grown a taste for deploying AirTag trackers to assist with their investigations.

According to Forbes, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently used an AirTag for surveillance in a case that potentially had an illicit narcotics manufacturing angle. Citing an official search warrant, the report notes that border agents intercepted a package coming in from China that contained a pill press machine used to turn chemical powders into a pill.

Read more
Samsung may be getting ready to launch a new AirTag rival this year
A person holding the Samsung Galaxy SmartTag2.

Samsung is not the first brand that comes to mind when you are out shopping for an object tracker. That kind of consumer trust and appeal is currently commanded by Tile, which kickstarted the trend, and Apple's popular AirTag. However, Samsung wants to wiggle its way into that space with yet another object tracker that's destined to arrive soon.

Citing unnamed sources, SamMobile reports that Samsung is planning a refresh of its Galaxy Smart Tag portfolio. And if all things go according to plan, the second-gen object tracker from Samsung will hit the shelves in the third quarter of 2023 — possibly around the same time frame as the launch of Samsung’s upcoming foldable phones.

Read more