Google is unveiling an “on-body detection” technology for Android phones that essentially keeps the device unlocked when it's in your hand or pocket, provided you've already enabled a passcode. Given that many Android phones already respond to eye movement and the wave of a hand, this isn't that great of a leap in terms of technological advancement, but it does bring up the ubiquitous question of privacy, given the fact that "on-body detection" is basically tracking your very movements. Google says they're using the technology for your protection and convenience; they're hoping the "on-body detection" will lessen smartphone thefts, since the device will autolock when not in your hand or pocket. Such thefts are already on the decline thanks to a "kill-switch" feature that has been implemented on both Android smartphones and Apple iPhones.
Google's logic behind the "on-body detection" is this: If you were to leave your phone out, and it automatically locked right as you let go of it, either a thief would choose not to pick up the device or they'd simply have no access to your data if they stole it. They're also hoping this inspires more users to utilize password-protective steps to ensure their phone's safety. Plus, you wouldn't have to worry about re-entering a password if you were holding your phone and stopped interacting with it. So, if you were listening to music on your device while still holding it and felt inspired to look up similar songs, you wouldn't have to deal with unlocking your phone yet again to search Google.
A rather curious feature is the fact that the smartphone will stay unlocked in your pants' pocket or handbag. The way that "on-body detection" works when a phone is tucked away but still nearby is through information gathered from the device's built-in tracking components like GPS and Bluetooth as well as its accelerometer, which measures the motion of your phone. (It's essentially what keeps your screen rotating when you rotate your phone.) If the phone is jostled enough, it'll stay unlocked and assume it's in your possession. Says Android directly when enabling the feature:
This feature uses your device's accelerometer to detect whether your device is still being carried. If your device detects that it's no longer being held, your device won't stay unlocked. Note: if you unlock your device and hand it to someone else, your device also stays unlocked as long as that person continues to hold or carry it.
It's currently unclear whether or not that technology could be bypassed, though as mentioned above, handing off your phone to someone else does ensure that it stays unlocked. Thus, if a thief were to run up and quickly take it from your grasp, you might be out of luck. One thing that "on-body detection" doesn't do is discriminate between users. There's no way for the device to discern whether you or someone else is holding it.
The fact that the smartphone would be using already enabled technology means that even if you're not one of the lucky few who already have the "on-body detection" software available, you're still being tracked just the same, as Android says they're using GPS, Bluetooth, and other tracking services in unison for "on-body detection." Not a big fan of having your location tracked? There's a way to disable that feature for your smartphone camera and the device as a whole, whether you want your photos to emit zero location data or your entire phone to stop tracking where you're going. Users can also turn off Bluetooth accessibility.
For now, there's no set date on when "on-body detection" will be available for all Android devices. Those who are tired of repeatedly unlocking their device throughout the day are surely excited for this latest step in convenience.
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