Even if they are reset to factory settings.
Google will be able to track the location of Android-based smartphones even when they are turned off and reset to factory settings. According to the insider, the corporation is working on a counterpart to Apple’s “Locator”, which allows you to find a stolen or lost iPhone 11. The new feature will require special “hardware” to work.
Find a disconnected Android smartphone using the OS
Google Corp. plans to add to the mobile operating system Android enhanced search for lost devices, which works even on turned off gadgets, writes 91mobiles. The feature will be called “Power-off Finder” and will presumably allow you to locate a device that has been reset to factory settings.
Android researcher Kuba Wojciechowski was the first to point out the innovation. According to the information available to him, Google is interested in building a large network of connected Android devices that will be able to “communicate” with each other using Bluetooth and UWB (Ultra-Wide Band; ultra wide band) radio communications, including wireless tags like Apple’s AirTag.
A wanted device will continuously broadcast its location like a short-range radio beacon, hoping that a nearby smartphone or other Android device will pick up the data and relay it back to the original owner.
Source of information
The source of the information appears to be one of the smartphone OEMs who managed to gain access to the source code of the upcoming Android 14 through the Early Access Program. A line “hardware.google.bluetooth.power_off_finder” was found in one of the modules, the comments to which give a general idea of the function. Its activation will generate a special key, which is then sent for storage to the Bluetooth-chip of the device, capable of working autonomously, regardless of whether the gadget is turned on or not. This will require the appropriate “hardware” that allows the wireless modules to function independently of the rest of the device’s components.
It is not yet known reliably whether any of the existing smartphone models support such technology. 91mobiles believes that the future Google Pixel 8 is highly likely to be endowed with the relevant functionality.
Catching up with Apple
In the Apple iPhone smartphones, such hardware-level capabilities appeared with the release of Model 11, that is, in 2019. Finding itself with the power off, including when the battery is dead (in fact, the device retains a certain reserve), allows devices running iOS 15 and newer.
The Locator app (“Find my”) is responsible for finding Apple gadgets that are tethered to iCloud. The service uses other Apple devices located nearby as a retransmitter of a signal about the device location and transfer it to the company’s server in the profile of the owner of this device.
In practice, however, the service can transmit very inaccurate coordinates to the owner of the gadget. In December 2022 CNews wrote about how the police in Denver (Colorado, USA) stormed the house of Ruby Johnson, a 77-year-old local resident, while searching for a truck with guns, relying on erroneous “Locator” readings.
We cannot rule out the possibility of similar incidents involving Android smartphone owners in the future, with the release of the Power-off Finder. It is also worth keeping in mind that when this feature is activated, it will probably be much easier for Google to track the location of each individual Android user. However, Google, like Apple, is regularly accused of taking an excessive interest in users’ privacy.
The Android OS does have some means to search for lost gadgets. In particular, in the Google Play store is available the application “Find My Device”, which provides the user approximately the same set of features as the predecessor of “Locator” – “Find My iPhone” by Apple, adjusted to the Google ecosystem.
For example, it can be used to locate a device linked to a Goolge account, lock it, delete all user data from it, or make it play a loud sound using an external speaker to alert others. To do this, however, your smartphone or tablet must be turned on and online.
Google’s phone search feature has been available since 2016. Plans to release Google’s analogue of “Locator” first became known back in June 2021.