Google promises to improve its Find My Device service to recover lost phones

Currently, if you own a non-Samsung phone and set up the Find My Device service to assist in recovering lost or stolen Android phones you have about as much chance as posting an ad in the classifieds.

Although offered by a company with global reach when it comes to data collection, the Find My Device service is virtually disarmed by the limitations of the technologies used. For example, in order to be found, a lost or stolen Android phone must remain connected to the internet. Ideally, the lost phone is still under the cover of an already backed-up WiFi network, but if it’s been stolen, chances are good that any perpetrator with minimal experience will extract the SIM card, thus blocking any attempt to locate it.

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And if by some miracle, the Android phone remains accessible via the internet, then the rightful owner is presented with the option to remotely “format” the lost phone, in the idea of preventing 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 locked and unusable. In fact, the new “owner” can still exploit the weak security of the Android platform to get it reset to factory settings, thus removing any protections that would prevent reselling the device at an unexpectedly good price.

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Under the new formula, Google “borrows” the necessary technologies from friend Samsung, with Pixel phones and beyond gaining the ability to use Bluetooth connectivity to automatically communicate location to other nearby Android devices.

The fact is that Samsung and Apple already offer this functionality, in fact they’re way ahead of Google. For example, the functionality of iPhone/iPad devices is tightly linked to the iCloud account, making it almost impossible for a stranger to hijack them without the original owner’s permission. So much so that a remotely locked iPhone remains virtually unusable, negating any possibility of reselling stolen devices.

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