Google enhances Find My Device service to also allow for locating phones that are turned off

Unlike solutions such as Apple AirTag and Samsung Smart Tag, the Find My Device service can assist in recovering lost or stolen Android phones only as long as they are still turned on and connected to the internet, leaving little chance for the owner to attempt anything other than remotely wiping personal data.

Although offered by a company with global reach in terms of data collection, the Find My Device service is virtually disarmed by the limitations of the technologies used. For example, a lost or stolen Android phone can be turned off or reset to factory settings within minutes, thwarting any attempts to locate it. And if by some miracle the Android phone remains switched on and accessible via the internet, then the rightful owner is presented with the option to remotely “format” the lost phone, in a bid to prevent unauthorised access to personal data remaining on the device. In this case, the phone/tablet from which you have just deleted your personal data is “severed” from your Google account, becoming immediately inaccessible to you. However, this does not mean that the device remains permanently locked, as the new “owner” can exploit the weak security of the Android platform to remove protections that would prevent the device from being resold.

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Under the new smart-tag-inspired formula, Pixel phones and beyond will be able to function as Bluetooth beacons, repeatedly transmitting an identification code. Identified in the app’s code as “Pixel Power-off Finder”, the feature will remain active on phones that are turned off, even after the Low-Battery message is displayed. Thus, for weeks or perhaps even months, any device in the Android ecosystem will be able to detect the misplaced phone within range of the Bluetooth connection, reporting the location to Google with accuracy to within tens of meters.

Unfortunately, except for the Pixel series, there’s little chance that the extended version of Find My Device will ship on current-generation devices, as enabling the bluetooth connection on shutdown phones requires some changes on the hardware side as well.

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