Monday, 5 August 2013

The mystery of Google's app for wiping and locating phones

Late last week the media predicted the imminent launch of a new Google application for Android phones that would allow users to locate or wipe their devices.

The Register wrote, "Google has announced that it will begin offering a free device location and security service for Android phones and tablets for the first time later this month, addressing a longstanding (sic) omission in Mountain View's mobile OS."

Such security features are often included with anti-malware applications, while there are also dedicated apps that provide only the location and memory-wiping abilities.

The news that Google was going to launch its new Android Device Manager security service and application made me a little confused. I thought it already had put out something similar ages ago. In fact I remember seeing an app called Google Apps Device Policy on pretty much every device that I've used.



Here is Google's description of Google Apps Device Policy:
***THIS APP IS FOR GOOGLE APPS FOR BUSINESS, EDUCATION, AND GOVERNMENT USERS ONLY***
Google Apps Device Policy makes your Android device more secure
* Ring or locate a lost device via My Devices (https://www.google.com/apps/mydevices)
* Remotely lock device or change pin
* Administrators can enforce security policies and remotely wipe devices



The app is clearly only available to use for those who pay for Google Apps. Indeed, if you visit the URL above you'll see a message verifying that fact.



My confusion was compounded, however, when I came to verify the name of the app before writing this article. My current phone and tablet, a Nexus 4 and Nexus 7, are running the latest version of Android (4.3) and now no longer show Google Apps Device Policy as being available.

As the first screenshots above show, though, the program was certainly installed at some point. In fact it has been installed not only on the devices I use day to day but also on the first Android phone I ever bought and all devices bought since.

It's great news that ordinary users will have access to these features. It's just a little surprising that a similar, installed product seems to have become invisible or been removed.