People clearly need a way to find their stuff, which is why we’re seeing a sudden spate of Bluetooth tracking devices. But behind the scenes, companies are building out robust networks for tracking your devices — including your cars. Apple’s Find My network uses Find My-enabled devices like iPhones to help you find your stuff — which is both useful and frightening. Now Google is looking into a stuff-tracking solution by tapping into its massive network of Android devices.
We already knew Google was working on a “Find My Device” network. But we have even more clues thanks to code in an internally-reviewed, or “dogfood” version, of Google Play Services.
According to 9to5Google, which dug deeper into the app package and reported on the findings, it looks like Google will offer a Find My Device app on Android that will let you mark a smartphone or tablet as missing. Any Android devices that pass by will scan for that missing device via Bluetooth — just like Apple’s Find My app, which passively pings Apple devices that have opted into the Find My network to help you find stuff. You’ll receive notifications when the device in question is spotted by other phones and tablets pinging the network, and it will do so without exposing any identifiable information. The app has permission to force the missing device to ring so that it can be located by anyone who might be looking — like listening for your car alarm in an overfilled, multi-story parking garage.
Further digging into Find My Devices also reveals the ability to “share” ownership of a smartphone or tablet. This is particularly useful if you’re operating a small business with doled-out devices or you’re a parent with a kid that’s prone to leaving things behind. Find My Device will let you see the location of the shared device, and linked Android devices will chime in if they spot the device in the network.
For cars down the pipeline manufactured with Android Automotive in the dash, Find My Device might gain the ability to lock down a vehicle in case it’s stolen. The app can remotely delete the account if there’s no hope of recovering the car. There also appears to be an option to wipe over an existing account if the car’s been offline for a while.
There are few details on how the Find My Device network might differentiate from Apple’s Find My network. A previous 9to5Google report found mentions in another APK related to a network called “Spot.” It would use a rotating encryption key to ping for available devices without exposing the device making the connection. Spot uses the Eddystone protocol, which Google had worked on years ago for “proximity beacon messages,” or what some might recall as Nearby notifications. It’s a byproduct of a vintage Google focused on a physical web rather than a cloud-based one. But spam bots eventually took over Spot, which is why Google killed access Nearby notification access in 2018.
The question is whether Google’s network would be able to pinpoint your device more accurately because of the vast number of global Android devices. It’s also unclear if the device network would extend to some of Google’s other Android-adjacent devices, namely Chrome OS, which would help you track down your missing laptop, too.