Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Google can remotely change your device’s Settings, and it did for some users

A number of Android users discovered that their phones had battery saver mode automatically turned on, even though their devices had sufficient battery life.

Does Google have a kill switch to remotely make changes in your devices without you ever knowing? In what may trigger another round of privacy debate, a number of Android on Friday reported “Battery Saver” mode getting automatically enabled. Some users thought they inadvertently activated the mode, but later it was found that Google was responsible for the change.

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According to a report in Android Police, a ‘substantial number’ of Pixel phone users discovered their phones had automatically battery saver mode on despite the sufficient battery charge. The website added that a lot of Android users with the latest version of Google’s OS, Android Pie, faced this problem.

“Judging by the number of tips and comments we’re seeing, this is a very widespread issue. You should be able to turn battery saver off and change the 99% activation threshold, but it’s still bizarre Google can even make settings changes like this,” the website noted.

Google later acknowledged that they had made the changes. The company said it was an internal experiment that was mistakenly rolled out publicly.

“Hi all, some of you may have noticed that battery saver turned on automatically today. This was an internal experiment to test battery saving features that was mistakenly rolled out to more users than intended. We have now rolled battery saver settings back to default. Please configure to your liking. Sorry for the confusion,” Google said in a Reddit post.

It’s not uncommon to have bugs or unfinished features to be part of a software update or patch, but what is surprising and creepy that Google made the changes in device Settings remotely, and without users ever knowing.

The Verge in its report points out that both Google and Apple do have some mechanism to force changes in users’ devices (software-level). But that’s used as a last resort and mainly aimed at users’ security and safety.

The report also highlights late Steve Jobs’ response on the use of a kill switch. While admitting that Apple does have such tools, he told the Wall Street Journal, “Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull.”