The other night I showed my new one Google Pixel 6a smartphone to my friend Pavlo. The phone was locked when I gave it to him. Then he suddenly stared at my home screen. He had placed his finger on the part of the display where the phone scans for fingerprints and unlocked the phone.
And gasped. My heartbeat accelerated.
“Paul!” I said. “That shouldn’t happen.” He pressed the power button to lock the phone and tried unlocking it a second time. It worked. My eyes bulged. He kept doing it, surprising our friends nearby. Luckily no one else could unlock my phone.
I’ve searched online and found that other people have had similar issues since the phone became available last month. Some people were able to unlock the Pixel 6a with fingers that they hadn’t enrolled in the device settings. and two have youtube channels shown that people could unlock a Pixel 6a even if their fingerprints weren’t stored on the phone.
Typically, both consumers and corporate employees want to keep the content on their devices private. People will expect their devices not to accidentally give access to strangers or even friends or family members. That means this issue isn’t the best thing that can happen to Google’s fast-growing Pixel line of smartphones apples iPhones and countless Android phones.
Google shipped 800,000 smartphones in the U.S. in the second quarter, up about 230% year over year, according to estimates released Monday by a tech industry research group channels. Apple, Samsung, Motorola and TCL have all shipped more phones in North America than Google, Canalys said.
The $449 Pixel 6a packs the same Google Tensor chip as the 2021 Pixel 6, which Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, told analysts in April as “the fastest-selling Pixel ever.”
The A range of Pixel phones like the Pixel 6a are said to offer similar technology to Google’s flagship models at a lower price point.
Users can set up the Pixel 6a without enabling the fingerprint unlock feature, but it’s still a popular alternative to a passcode.
“The under-display fingerprint sensor in the Pixel 6a has been tested to meet the industry standard for security at which the probability of an unconfirmed fingerprint match is 1 in 50,000 attempts,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC in an email. “We’re continually improving the performance, stability, and reliability of our fingerprints, and users should ensure they’re running the latest version of Android 13.”
Apple says so his website that there is a one in 50,000 chance of two separate fingerprints matching a single finger enrolled in its Touch ID technology. By comparison, the probability of correctly guessing someone’s four-digit passcode to unlock a device is one in 10,000.
Authentication issues have arisen with phones from other manufacturers that have relied on facial recognition. Family members who weren’t exactly alike managed to unlock Apple’s iPhone X in 2017and in 2019, people discovered that it was possible to unlock the Samsung Galaxy S10 with a photo of the phone owner.
While it’s rare, I still found it scary that someone else’s fingerprint unlocked my phone. If you’re concerned about this as well, you should just rely on another authentication method instead.