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Google turns to AI to protect its users against cell phone theft

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Google said it would use artificial intelligence to detect when Android smartphones have been snatched and quickly lock the screen, as tech groups scramble to protect sensitive data amid reports of an increase cell phone thefts.

The Silicon Valley giant on Wednesday announced its new “anti-theft lock,” powered by Google’s AI, which will be activated if the device detects “a common movement associated with theft” – such as if a thief takes a phone from your hand from an owner and attempts to run, cycle or drive away with it.

The move is part of Google’s efforts to reduce criminals’ incentives to steal phones in order to profit from sensitive financial information and personal data stored on mobile devices, as well as the value of the physical device.

The feature will roll out later this year to devices running later Android operating systems.

British police are facing the highest level of ‘robbery’ offenses recorded for 20 years, according to the latest official figures for England and Wales. Criminal incidents – in which items are taken from people without threat or use of violence, often through pick-pocketing or snatching – increased by 18% in 2023.

One in three items stolen this way is a cell phone, according to National Crime Survey data.

Apple rolled out its own anti-theft features in its Stolen Device Protection update earlier in 2024.

The update to iOS was designed to prevent thieves from making critical security changes, such as accessing stored passwords and credit cards and changing an Apple ID. The feature works even if a password is stolen, as it implements additional security requirements if a user’s iPhone is in an unknown location.

Apple’s additional measures include requiring biometric authentication – without a backcode option – and, in some cases, introducing a one-hour delay for important security actions.

Google’s latest upgrades to Android also include additional layers of security before allowing users to change sensitive settings, reset a device after a full factory reset, and turn off location tracking.

The company said requiring device or Google account credentials to reset a mobile phone after a factory reset would make a stolen phone “unsellable” and deter criminals.

The new measures also include a designated “private space” – locked with a separate PIN – to provide additional protection to apps containing sensitive personal data. It’s already possible for Android owners to use third-party services to lock individual apps with a PIN.

Video: AI: a blessing or a curse for humanity? | FT technology

News Source : www.ft.com
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