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July 12, 2017

Google looking to give Android users ‘panic button’ for shady apps and sites

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Android users could soon have a way to immediately return to the safety of their home screen if their phone locks up for any reason.

We’ve all been there. Perhaps you’ve downloaded a shady app or come across a particularly persistent pop-up, and when you try to back out, your phone becomes unresponsive. In these situations, it would be nice to have some kind of “panic button,” where you could instantly close the offending software and safely return to your home screen. Fortunately, this is exactly what Google has begun testing in the latest release of Android version 7.1.

The feature is quite simple in practice. Apparently, the default action to trigger the panic response is four presses of the back button, however XDA Developers notes that the number of presses can be modified in Android’s SystemUI APK, one of the operating system’s core services. SystemUI controls the notification shade, status bar, and navigation buttons, so it makes sense that it would be involved in this process.

Once the system determines four presses have been made in quick succession, you exit the app. It’s that simple — though, as Bleeping Computer notes, although the feature exists in the code, it seems that it hasn’t been enabled for any devices yet. Developers and those familiar with tinkering with Android can switch it on for themselves if they’d like, though it’s unclear how reliable the feature is at this stage. Google has not formally announced it — either for the simple fact that it’s not ready yet, or because the company is trying to conceal security measures from malicious parties.

Either way, the fact that such an option exists is good news for Android users. While Google has made significant strides in stamping out malware in the Play Store, the relatively open nature of the Android ecosystem means there will always be a certain inherent risk. The company has pushed out patches with increasing frequency over the last several years and built a new front page for Android’s built-in security suite in the form of Google Play Protect.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen increasingly advanced methods of mobile data theft crop up, so it’s quite possible hackers will find their way around this in time as well. Such is the nature of computer security — there will always be new threats to guard against. Still, just knowing there’s an escape hatch built into Android is sure to give users additional peace of mind.

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