Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Google defends Find My Device ‘aggregation by default’ as ‘key’ privacy difference

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From the beginning, Google has prioritized being privacy-conscious with the Find My Device (FMD) network, including delaying the launch until the iPhone gained unknown tracker alerts. Google chose “aggregation by default” to the detriment of Find My Device performance, and is seemingly doubling down on that decision.

The default Find My Device network setting is “With network in high-traffic areas only.” Multiple Android devices have to detect an object before its location is shared. So far, users have found this ineffective in real-world usage, with trackers not being located.

In a new support article, Google argues “aggregation by default” is a “key difference of the Find My Device network compared to other finding networks.” At launch, Google said this was a “first-of-its-kind safety protection.” The aim is to make “unwanted tracking to a private location, like your home, more difficult.”

It joins other protections like “not contribut[ing] crowdsourced location reports to the Find My Device network when it is near the user’s home” (if an address is saved to their Google Account), rate limiting and throttling location reports/request, and tracker alerts.

Google does acknowledge that “this may sometimes affect detection of Bluetooth trackers, especially in low-traffic areas,” and once again encourages users to enable “With network in all areas” (form Settings > Google > Find My Device > Find your offline devices). This setting means that one device is enough to send the location of a found tracker. 

As more people opt in to ‘With network in all areas’, the Find My Device network’s ability to find lost items in lower-traffic areas will continue to improve.

At this stage, it does not seem like Google plans to change that default, which is good in theory but so far impacting product (tracker) usability and giving the FMD network a bad reputation at launch.

Looking ahead, Google told us last month that it is “actively working to roll out enhancements to how the Find My Device network operates that will improve the speed and ability of locating lost items over the coming weeks.” It also points to how the network will grow and accuracy will improve as more people join, with “over a billion Android devices that can participate.” Hopefully, that will be enough.

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