One of the features that Google promised for their newest version of Android, Lollipop, was a “kill switch,” in an effort to not only provide a way to remotely wipe information from a device that’s stolen but also to promote a deterrent from the theft at all. Now that Lollipop is official, the kill switch is indeed present, but it looks like it’s still only opt-in — for now.
Now that Android 5.0 Lollipop is official, Google has also unveiled their own kill switch within the mobile platform, officially calling it “factory reset protection.” If someone wants to reset a device, they’ll need to insert a Google ID and password to have the option. However, there are two caveats.
The first is that there must be a passcode enabled on the device for the feature to work at all. Meaning, even with your Google ID and password present on the device, it won’t mean anything worthwhile if the device is stolen. Not only will the information still be accessible (as it would on any device, in that specific situation), but the device can also be reset without issue. Moreover, as noted by Forbes, even the passcode itself is a small hurdle in some situations. If a thief grabs a device will the display is on and does not need to access the passcode to unlock the display, then the phone can be reset without the Google ID and password.
Google’s kill switch in Android 5.0 Lollipop isn’t the best, but it’s a step in the right direction. Specifically, it would appear that the best way to keep tabs on a device and make sure it’s secure is through the Android Device Manager, which recently launched a guest mode to make it possible for other people to use the feature just by logging in quickly and then logging out. Both of these steps, the ADM and Google’s current implementation of the kill switch, are still means to handle a stolen phone after it’s stolen, instead of focusing on trying to make sure thieves don’t want to steal the phone in the first place.
“In order for these theft-deterrents to effectively end the epidemic, they must be enabled by default so violent criminals lack the incentive to steal any smartphone,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a joint statement. “We will continue to encourage every actor in the smartphone industry – including Google – to take the necessary, additional step of ensuring this technology is opt-out on all devices.”
Of course, all of this will likely become moot as California’s smartphone “kill switch bill” goes into effect beginning in July 2015. It is unlikely that smartphone manufacturers and companies like Google will differentiate between “California smartphones,” so Android will have to transition its kill switch to opt-out, rather than allow it to be an opt-in scenario.
How do you make sure your smartphone is secure?