Late last week, Google apologized for inadvertently enabling a battery saver feature on users’ Android handsets. But it never addressed the real questions.
How the frick can Google remotely enable a system setting on users’ phones?
And why did it do so in this specific case?
“Hi all, some of you may have noticed that battery saver turned on automatically today,” a Google post to Reddit explains. “This was an internal experiment to test battery saving features that was mistakenly rolled out to more users than intended. We have now rolled battery saver settings back to default. Please configure to your liking. Sorry for the confusion.”
Battery Saver is a feature that debuted in Android 5 Lollipop. As I wrote back in 2016, Battery Saver automatically kicks in when battery life is low and reduces performance and system and app capabilities in order to preserve that battery life. You can also disable it if you’d like or turn it on manually.
To be fair, Google’s remote triggering of Battery Saver didn’t actually impact the broader Android user base. It was limited to a small group of people running Android 9 Pie, mostly on Pixel devices. (When I heard about this happened, I checked my phone, but it was not remotely triggered.)
No matter. The news that Google could even make such a change to users’ phones has created a new wave of distrust and worries, especially among the privacy-conscious. But as The Verge accurately points out, this capability isn’t really news per se. Both Apple and Google have so-called “triggers” in their mobile platforms by which they can make changes to users’ devices for safety and security reasons. And yes, this includes system settings.
The real issue here is that Google has remained mum since apologizing for making the change. It has not explained why it would even make such a change to a reduced set of users. Is Google quietly experimenting on its own users using public, non-beta versions of its platform?
Hopefully, we’ll find out.