Losing your smartphone is a nightmarish scenario, but Google includes the Find My Device app to help locate your Android device easily. The system is not as robust as Apple’s, which uses a network of participating devices to relay the lost object’s location to the owner. But we are getting there. Google intends to enable geolocation of lost Android devices, even when they are powered off, using the Find My Device network which is yet to debut. We now have our first look at the settings UI for this feature in a rather production-ready state.
In its current state, the Find My Device app only uses your lost device’s last known location to help you find it, as long as the phone or tablet is powered on. However, thieves usually power off stolen devices immediately, so you can’t track them. To ensure the devices are trackable even when powered off, Google is developing the Find My Device network, where other phones and tablets around your stolen one can passively relay location data to you.
The Google News channel on Telegram has discovered a new setting determining how much you use the Find My Device network. Previously labeled as a toggle called Store recent location, the setting is now called Find your offline device, available under Settings → Security & privacy → Device finders → Find My Device. It has four states of activity.
When set to Off, your device will be untraceable when powered off because it won’t use the Find My Device network. You can still remotely wipe the phone or tablet. When set to Without network, the lost device remains off-limits for the Find My Device network, but you can remotely see the last recorded location from when the lost device was powered on. Both these options deprive you of any advantages the Find My Device network may offer, but could be the best options for privacy-conscious users, even though Google says it cannot see location data of lost devices on the Find My Device network.
The settings menu also has two options to locate your device using the yet-unreleased Find My Device network. If set to With network in high-traffic areas, participant devices of the network will passively relay your lost device’s location directly to you, only in busy places like sidewalks and airports. This setting should make it easy to find your lost device with greater accuracy, even in a crowded place, because there could be more devices participating in the Find My Device network there. Alternatively you can enable With network in all areas, facilitating geolocation when switched off, even in secluded areas. This option picks on even the remotest chance of finding your device, but we suspect location data will be approximate at best.
The parent Find your device offline setting with the above-mentioned configurations isn’t available at the moment, but should be available as soon as the Find My Device network rolls out widely. When that could happen is anybody’s best guess. However, the spread of options for your involvement with the network seems sufficiently promising.