Android phones should have a private ‘repair mode’


Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Having to send in a broken phone for repair is stressful enough. You find yourself without your primary means of communication, you hope that it will be quickly repaired without errors or overcharges, and you rely on a carrier not to lose it or delay its delivery. But there is also the somewhat “disgusting” feeling of knowing that one of your most personal possessions is now in someone else’s hands.

This uncomfortable situation is exacerbated when you can’t (or don’t know how) to reset your phone before sending it back. Laws in some countries require repair companies to erase devices to protect your data, but many others do not have specific regulations. Some carriers or brands may require this as part of their internal repair protocol, but others may not. And let’s not talk about mom-and-pop repair shops. This uncertainty is certainly confusing for us users.

Finally, if the repair employee is not asked to reset your device, they will end up in one of two situations: either they ask you for the unlock method to verify that everything is spotless when they have finished fix things. , or they send it back after performing the bare minimum of checks. Neither solution is ideal, and that’s why Google should create a secure, locked-down Android repair mode that allows anyone to inspect hardware without revealing any personal data.

This thinking was sparked by the recent Pixel leak incident that made headlines, and while the issue turned out to be unrelated to the repair process, it made us wonder why Android still doesn’t have of this essential functionality. After all, this wouldn’t have been the first or last repair horror story we’ve heard, and not all end in multi-million dollar settlements.

Our phones hold our lives

Application lock

When we think of someone else handling our most personal device, we first think of our photos and any privacy concerns that might arise. But phones carry much more sensitive data these days.

Giving access to our device to a stranger means that they can, if they wish, consult our conversations and our chats, read and post anything on our social networks, open our emails, see our personal address on Maps and wherever we’ve been, know our upcoming schedule, and open our documents. If we have smart home devices, they could unlock our door, turn off the alarm system, or view footage from our security camera.

You must refuse to give out the unlock code for your phone if a repairman asks you to do so.

Now imagine having your business accounts – and all potential private business data – on your phone, too. Worse, once a stranger knows the PIN or pattern, they can also unlock any banking or password app that uses Android’s built-in lock screen for security.

Therefore, if you ever send your device in for repair, you had better reset it first. If this is not possible, you must refuse to give out the unlock code if you are ever asked to do so.

Android’s Safe Mode hardly solves anything

Safe Mode almost enabled on Google Pixel 3 XL

Android already offers a Safe Mode that disables third-party apps and services. It helps you check if a problem you are facing is system-wide or is due to an installed app. While this is a handy utility, it is designed for use by the owner of the device, not a stranger, for two reasons.

The first is that you always have to unlock the phone using your fingerprint or face – or PIN or backup pattern – to access anything. This negates the point of having a repairman go into safe mode to diagnose your device.

Huawei Mate X2 lock screen in hand

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

A repairman is already able to check many hardware items, despite the phone being locked. They can check the screen and its touch functionality; try the power and volume buttons; launch the camera and record a video to check the different lenses, microphones and speakers; and of course, make sure the battery and charge are working.

Other features, however, may or may not be accessible depending on the software version and Android skin – and whether that lets you toggle quick settings on the lock screen. For example, if your phone is in Airplane mode and it can’t be turned off while it’s still locked, no one can verify that the SIM tray, network antennas, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi are working.

Anyone should be able to run diagnostic tests without unlocking the phone or seeing the user’s personal data.

And finally, some sensors may be impossible to diagnose without unlocking the phone. In my limited anecdotal testing on my Pixel 5 and 6 Pro, I noticed that there was no way to check if the compass, GPS, rate gyro, accelerometer, or proximity sensor were working when the lock screen was on.

A proper Android repair mode should open all of these regardless of what the device owner has set. Without unlocking the phone, anyone should be able to switch to this mode, run tests, and access any sensors or hardware items to verify that they are working. All of this should be possible in a secure manner, without being able to see any of the user’s personal data. Files, photos, apps, contacts, messages, and all private information don’t need to be accessed in any way.

Do you reset your phone before sending it in for repair?

11 votes

The key word here is to be able to do this while the phone is locked. This is why the secret codes allowing to run certain tests on Android in general, and certain brands in particular, do not count. You must unlock the phone to access the dialer.

What if there was a built-in diagnostic app that could be triggered from the lock screen just like the camera or emergency call functionality? We could even run it ourselves if we felt something was wrong with our device, to avoid wasting the time and resources of the repair team.

Better yet, what about a diagnostic mode in Android Quick Start? It would then be available even if the screen is not working and would remain isolated from the rest of the operating system. It seems like an ideal solution and it would give us a bit of relief whenever we really need to send our phone in for repair.

Continue reading: Android operating system issues and how to fix them

Previous Jack White's Supply Chain Issues Tour Comes to YouTube Theater - Daily Breeze
Next Black Voters Matter Co-Founder to be Keynote Speaker at OSU's MLK Jr.