Google releases its own “Find my iPhone” for Android devices – but doesn’t go far enough

Google has responded to concerns about the rising number of smartphone thefts, by releasing a tool which can help you locate and wipe your lost Android phone or tablet.

Android Device Manager offers a similar service to Apple’s “Find my iPhone” facility, showing you on a map where your smartphone was lost spotted, and giving you the option to make it sound its ringer at maximum volume (even if its in silent mode) or even wipe its contents.

Android Device Manager

Such tools are a god-send to smartphone users, and not just if they have had their smartphone stolen. I can’t count the number of times I’ve put my phone down around the house, with its volume turned down, and had to use a service like this to find it.

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And Android Device Manager comes at an opportune time. Politicians such as London Mayor Boris Johnson have put their weight behind groups lobbying for the vendors of smartphones to do more to make life harder for phone thieves.

In fact, some have even cynically intimating that some manufacturers might quite enjoy benefiting from smartphone theft as it can lead to more sales of devices to victims.

Android NexusIndeed, this morning I was on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program discussing this issue with technology journalist @KateBevan, who raised the spectre of thieves not only selling on stolen devices, but also gaining access to victim’s data and logging into their email and social networking accounts.

From the sound of things, however, Google hasn’t gone far enough with Android Device Manager.

Firstly, and surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to currently be a way of sending a message to display on the lost Android phone. For instance, “If lost, please return to Anthony Weiner. And – hey! – don’t read my texts, ok?”

And although it’s good that they’ve now given all Android users a way to locate and (if necessary) remotely wipe their devices just like their Apple cousins, there is nothing to stop criminals from factory resetting devices and selling them as if they were brand new.

That’s something which it appears Apple is addressing in the next version of its iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 7.

iOS 7 aims to deter thieves from stealing your iPhone in the first place, by making it possible to force a thief who tries to reactivate your iPhone after a factory reset to enter *your* Apple ID and password.

Activate iPhone iOS 7

We’ll have to wait and see if the big-gun Android phone makers like Samsung go that extra step to provide a further level of protection to their customers.

In the meantime, whether you are using an Android or iPhone, take the necessary steps to better protect your devices in case of theft or loss.

Android users should set up Android Device Manager, including enabling remote wipes (which has to be set up on your device *before* you can trigger it remotely).

iPhone and iPad users should set themselves up with “Find my iPhone” and keep their fingers crossed that iOS 7 comes out soon to provide a higher level of security.

Make sure to register your expensive devices with police-backed services like the UK’s or the US’s, which can help the cops return a device to you if they find it in the possession of a criminal.

And all smartphone owners should ensure that their phone is locked when not in use (passphrases are much stronger than PIN codes – watch this video if you don’t know how you can make a stronger phone password that you can still remember).

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

7 comments on “Google releases its own “Find my iPhone” for Android devices – but doesn’t go far enough”

  1. Not sure about the sending a message idea. I have my name and an alternate phone number on my lock screen for that purpose. Not being able to activate after a factory reset would be excellent; maybe in the future.

  2. Some tips
    1. If you can't afford to lose then don't have in the first place
    2. Shiny shiny cool = well nickable
    so I always customise expensive stuff by scratching it & sticking some repair tape on it so it looks as if it's been damaged …if I did turn my back ..the thief would look and say "it's not worth the risk to steal that crap"
    – keep a photo of your phone and IMEI number in a safe online place, in case you need to report it's theft
    (last year Samsung phones's could be hacked to change the IMEI, and Sony's couldn't)

    1. Dain Binder · in reply to Stew Green is really great for saving that information. You can register your phone and add the ID number(s), proof of purchase, and a photo.

      Thank you Graham for mentioning that website. I had not heard if it before.

  3. Gavin

    Hey, there are still some BlackBerry users out here! For those who haven't found it, the free BlackBerry Protect app from BlackBerry/RIM offers all the above functionality (apart from the post-factory reset schtick, I think). Well worth installing, and allowing geolocation at the time of installation – that doesn't happen unless you allow it.

  4. Alan

    anyone used 'prey' ?

  5. Graham

    Having built and launched an app over two years ago that returns a lost iPhone to the owner; I can safely say not many care about losing their device. In theory we are all worried about loss and theft, but in practice most don't pin protect their device leaving themselves/their device wide open. We all assume that a location service will save the day if we do loose it.
    It's like a pension – it's only when you retire you come to realise you should have put more £ aside. So, it's not until you actually loose a device that you care about pin protection, tracking, wiping, backing up etc…
    Despite these clever location services the consumer is still likely to lose out i.e. they loose a device (theft or a moment of forgetfulness), as soon as they realise its gone they wipe it and it's useless; however now it can be used and the owner can't easily be traced or contacted.
    Not sure it's the best concept ever…

  6. mikaere66

    I know I'm coming to this discussion a little late (3 years later) but it's STILL a relevant issue … Find My Phone for Android only works if Mobile Data/WiFi or GPS is turned on, meaning it's USELESS otherwise! You can however, lock your phone, basically rendering it useless to the finder/thief

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