Google can change your device settings remotely, and it did for some users

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A number of Android users have found that their phones automatically turn on battery saving mode even though their devices have enough battery life.

Does Google have a kill switch to make changes to your devices remotely without you knowing? In what could spark another round of privacy debates, a number of Androids announced on Friday that “Battery Saver” mode was automatically enabled. Some users thought they enabled the mode inadvertently, but later it was discovered that Google was responsible for the change.

According to a report in Android Police, a “substantial number” of Pixel phone users have discovered that their phones have automatically activated battery saving mode despite having sufficient battery power. The website added that many Android users with the latest version of Google’s operating system, Android Pie, are facing this issue.

“Judging from the number of tips and feedback we’re seeing, this is a very common issue. You should be able to turn off battery saver and change the 99% on threshold, but it’s still weird that Google can even change settings like this,” the website noted.

Google later acknowledged that they had made the changes. The company said it was an internal experiment that was mistakenly deployed publicly.

“Hi all, some of you may have noticed that the battery saver turned on automatically today. This was an internal experiment to test the battery saver features that have been mistakenly rolled out to more users than intended. We have now reverted Battery Saver settings to default. Please configure as you wish. Sorry for the confusion,” Google said in a Reddit post.

It’s not uncommon for bugs or unfinished features to be part of a software update or patch, but what’s surprising and scary is that Google made the changes to the settings of the device remotely, and without users knowing.

The Verge in its report points out that Google and Apple have a mechanism to force changes into users’ devices (at the software level). But this is used as a last resort and is mainly aimed at user safety and security.

The report also highlights the late Steve Jobs’ response to the use of a kill switch. While admitting that Apple has such tools, he told the Wall Street Journal: “I hope we never have to pull this lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like this at shoot.”

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