Google’s Find My Device network could be opt-in by default

After purchasing one of the best Android phones, we just hope it never gets stolen or misplaced. Thinking ahead, Google introduced the Find My Device service many moons ago, allowing you to locate lost devices and remotely wipe them, as long as they are powered on. Thieves were quick to catch on, immediately switching off stolen gear. Borrowing a trick from Apple’s Find My system, Google is now developing the Find My Device network, which should allow geolocation, even when your phone or tablet is switched off. After months of rumors, we have our first look at the setup process for the feature.

We’ve been hearing of the Find My Device network’s development since 2021. Although the feature has still not launched, the settings page allowing you to define your level of involvement in the network came to light last month. Now, Android expert Mishaal Rahman has revealed what enrolling a phone in the Find My Device network could look like.

When setting up a new device, you should see a notification suggesting you opt in to Find My Device network, which helps “you and others securely find lost items.” Presumably, this notification should also show up when the feature is available on Android phones and tablets already in use. When you tap Continue in the notification to enter the setup process, a two-card information sheet explains the feature’s benefits, namely the ability to locate your lost device, and help others locate theirs. By default, your device will contribute to the network only in high-traffic areas. So, it will share the location of lost devices with their respective owner only if another device on the network also detects the same lost one.

Google encrypts all the data on the Find My Device network using your screen lock, which you’re prompted to enter on the following screen. Rahman says you’ll have to enter the details for one of your devices that’s already on the network, so Google can verify it’s you setting up the feature. After this, your phone or tablet will be a part of the Find My Device network. However, Google gives you the option to revisit the settings we saw last month, and change the default to step up or reduce your hardware’s contribution to the network.

However, we worry the notification at the beginning can be ignored, because the feature is opt-in by default. As a result, many people could remain unconvinced of the benefits of this Bluetooth-based background service, making their devices untraceable when powered off, and reducing the efficacy of the network for all other Android users around them. On the other hand, we can appreciate Google for being truthful and giving us the choice instead of presuming our willingness to participate.

Rahman believes Google’s implementation could change before release. There is hope the company will take the middle path with a reworked prompt like “Find your Android device when it is offline.” Doing so would encourage users to opt in without forcing the choice on them, all while improving the network’s location tracking accuracy by contributing to it. Since the setup also appears ready to roll, the official release should be right around the corner. Until then, you can get by with the Find My Device app.

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