Saturday, June 15, 2024

Lost With Android Find My Device? You’re Not Alone

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A few weeks ago, I received two new tracking devices from a popular brand to try out with Google’s new Android Find My Device network. I activated and synchronized both pieces – a keychain tag and a wallet card – within minutes via the Android phone app. One I kept on a keychain in my laundry room, the other I placed in a car. All was good. Until my wife drove the car away, and the app immediately lost touch with that device – until the car returned later that day to my garage. The only way my phone recognized either device was when they were within bluetooth range. I suppose that’s useful for when I misplace things around the house. But what good is it outside of my home? Apparently I’m not alone, as I’ve heard several similar stories about this system.

By comparison, this past week I took 30 seconds to activate Ekster’s rechargeable Finder Card that works solely on Apple’s Find My network, put it in my glove compartment, and watched it seamlessly via the app as my wife drove to work five miles away. Worked as expected the first time, and every time since.

So why can’t Google seemingly get it right? As it was explained to me by someone familiar with the Android system, it “looks like the issue is related to the way Google’s Find My Device network updates item locations. Unlike Apple’s Find My Device app, which requires only one iPhone to pick up the location of a lost item, Google’s system needs multiple Android devices to detect the item before the location is updated.” This design choice is intended to enhance privacy and security, reducing the risk of tracking misuse, but it does come with the trade-off of less frequent updates.

And by default, “only Android devices in high-traffic areas are part of the finding network. Users in less-crowded areas need to manually adjust their settings to improve location updates – but an additional step might not be immediately apparent to all users,” according to this person. “It seems like the negative experience is affecting a lot of people.”

I also reached out to Google regarding my issue. The spokesman’s response: “Keeping people safe and their data secure and private is a top priority for Android. It appears the tag cannot be found because likely only your device has ‘seen’ it. Find My Device has multi-layered user protections built in. One of the protections is aggregation by default, which is a first-of-its-kind safety protection that makes unwanted tracking more difficult. By default, the Find My Device network requires multiple nearby Android devices to detect a tag before reporting its location to the tag’s owner. Our research found that the Find My Device network is most valuable in public settings like cafes and airports, where there are likely many devices nearby. By implementing aggregation before showing a tag’s location to its owner, the network can take advantage of its biggest strength – over a billion Android devices that can participate. This helps tag owners find their lost devices in these busier locations while prioritizing safety from unwanted tracking near private locations…If you want the Find My Device network to help you find your lost items in lower-traffic areas, you can opt in to share location info through the network to help others find lost items even when your device is the only one that has detected and shared a location for the item.”

I completely understand and applaud the security and safety factor. But until throngs of Android users are participating, I can’t see relying on Android’s device finder.

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