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Google tackles phone theft with new safety features coming to Android

Google has unveiled a range of new features for its Android operating system designed to combat mobile phone theft and fraud, including a new AI-powered tool that can detect when a phone has been snatched from the owner’s hand.

As part of its updates to Android 15, the next version of the tech giant’s mobile operating system coming later this year, Theft Detection Lock will automatically lock a phone’s screen to prevent thieves from getting into the device.

Google said its AI will be able to detect “common motion associated with theft” by reading signals from the device, such as the accelerometer reading the sudden jolt of someone on a bike snatching a phone from a user’s hand and then moving off at a high speed, to instantly lock the device.

It will be joined by a range of tools to better secure and hide apps which may contain sensitive data that would be of interest to thieves, as well as features to simplify the ability to remote lock a phone after it has been stolen.

Android's new Remote Lock feature which enables users to more easily lock their device after it has been stolen or is missing
Remote Lock makes it easier for users to lock their device in the event of it going missing (Google)

Dave Burke, Android’s vice president of engineering, said the new theft detection tool had in part been inspired by feedback it had received from staff and users in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and London, where he said high levels of phone theft were being reported.

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“Some pretty scary statistics I learned fairly recently (were that) in Sao Paolo, a phone is stolen every five minutes, and in London a phone is stolen every six minutes,” he said.

“That is a really serious issue, and we started thinking about it, what we can do, and we started studying (the issue).”

He added that the company had studied videos of phone thefts carried out on bikes to develop the new feature.

In October last year, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan held a meeting with tech companies – including Google, about phone companies doing more to help combat phone theft after a rise in incidents in the capital over the previous 12 months.

The new feature is being joined by other tools Google said “strengthen your device’s security against theft with new and improved protection features that will make thieves think twice about trying”.

It includes a new Private Space tool, which lets users create a separate area within their phone to place apps which contain sensitive data – such as banking apps – and can be hidden and locked with a separate pin.

In addition, Google is introducing a new Remote Lock feature, which allows users to lock their device remotely, using only their phone number and an additional pre-set security question.

Google said allowing this process to be carried out using a phone number was because “many users are shocked and stressed after a phone goes missing and can’t recall their Google account password”, which is used to access the Find My Device app where phones can be remotely locked.

The tech giant announced it would also roll out new on-device AI tools that would detect apps that might be engaging in fraud.

The live threat detection tools will analyse how apps act and use the permissions given to them by users to monitor if they were engaging in suspicious behaviour, alerting both users and Google is any such activity is spotted.