Update your Android phone to block thieves from breaking into your device, Google announces

a hand holds a smartphone with the android operating system logo pictured on screen

Android phone owners who upgrade to the next free operating system update will be able to enable Theft Detection Lock, which block opportunistic thieves from accessing your data

Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown

Published: 19/05/2024

- 12:16

AI can detect if your Android smartphone has been snatched from your hand

  • Android 15 will include a new Theft Detection Lock feature
  • Using AI, it works out if your phone has been grabbed by a thief
  • It can automatically lock your handset, requiring a PIN to unlock again
  • The free update is scheduled to launch worldwide later this year

The next major iteration of Android will block thieves from breaking into stolen phones, Google has announced. The clever feature, known as Theft Detection Lock, will debut in Android 15, which was announced during the Google I/O developer conference last week but isn't due to launch until later this year. Google also confirmed the biggest shake-up to its search engine since it launched in the late 90s during the same two-day event.

Google says its Artificial Intelligence (AI) model can detect when a smartphone has been snatched from the owner’s hand — with Android 15 automatically locking the screen to prevent thieves from getting into the device.

screenshot of an android phone with the settings open to the new remote lock screen

Google has also made improvements to its Remote Lock feature, which makes it easier for users to lock their device in the aftermath of it going missing


Without a fingerprint scan, facial scan, correct password or PIN, thieves won't be able to access the contents of the phone. It will also block criminals from resetting the handset to sell on the second-hand market.

Until now, snatching a phone from someone's hand would bypass the need to unlock the phone.

Google said its AI has been taught to detect “common motion associated with theft” by reading signals from the device, such as the accelerometer reading the sudden jolt of someone on a bike snatching a phone from a user’s hand and then moving off at high speed, to instantly lock the device.

It will be joined by a range of tools to better secure and hide apps which may contain sensitive data that would be of interest to thieves, as well as features to simplify the ability to lock a phone remotely after it's been stolen.

Android Vice President of Engineering, Dave Burke said the new theft detection tool had in part been inspired by feedback it had received from staff and users in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and London, where he said high levels of phone theft were being reported.

“Some pretty scary statistics I learned fairly recently (were that) in Sao Paolo, a phone is stolen every five minutes, and in London a phone is stolen every six minutes,” he said. “That is a really serious issue, and we started thinking about it, what we can do, and we started studying (the issue).”

He added that the company had studied videos of phone thefts carried out on bikes to develop the new feature.

In October last year, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan held a meeting with tech companies – including Google, about phone companies doing more to help combat phone theft after a rise in incidents in the capital over the previous 12 months.


The new feature is being joined by other tools Google said “strengthen your device’s security against theft with new and improved protection features that will make thieves think twice about trying”.

It includes a new Private Space tool, which lets users create a separate area within their phone to place apps which contain sensitive data – such as banking apps – and can be hidden and locked with a separate pin.

In addition, Google is introducing a new Remote Lock feature, which allows users to lock their device remotely, using only their phone number and an additional pre-set security question.

Google said allowing this process to be carried out using a phone number was because “many users are shocked and stressed after a phone goes missing and can’t recall their Google account password”, which is used to access the Find My Device app where phones can be remotely locked.

The tech giant announced it would also roll out new on-device AI tools that would detect apps that might be engaging in fraud.

The live threat detection tools will analyse how apps act and use the permissions given to them by users to monitor if they are engaging in suspicious behaviour, alerting both users and Google is any such activity is spotted.

You may like