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According to an article published earlier this month on 9 to 5 Google, Android has created a hidden “panic detection mode.” The mode is ultimately designed to protect users from rogue applications that threaten to product malware and other viruses.

“Even applications downloaded from the Play Store can go rogue, taking over a user’s entire device” the article reads. “In the background, Google has quietly introduced a ‘panic mode’ that helps protect users from situations like these.”

This mode gives users a guaranteed way to remove themselves from a rogue application and return to their home screen. Users simply hit the back button in “rapid succession.” The device detects this action, overrides any open applications, and allows users to access their home screen. From there, the application can be uninstalled.

Another article, published on Tom’s Guide, explains the functions of the feature in simpler terms:

“This well-hidden function lets users evade screen-seizing malicious or annoying apps by doing what comes naturally: pressing the back button like there’s no tomorrow,” the piece reads. “If a user hits the back button four times in rapid succession, he or she will be taken back to the home screen, from which the appropriate steps can be taken to remove the offending app.”

Although this is a step forward for Google security, the company has yet to step forward and reveal the feature itself. Instead, the feature was discovered by XDA Developers (a community of Android programmers that are often the first to find hidden features) in July of 2017.

“The benefits of panic detection are obvious, particularly for users who are dealing with never-ending streams of adware, or forms of ransomware that lock a screen and demand payment,” the article reads. “On the other hand, there may be a slight problem with panic detection: It’s not necessarily something that users can activate themselves.”

Evidently, manufacturers can determine whether the feature will remain active on sold phones.

The 9 to 5 Google article goes on to admit that panic detection mode “isn’t enabled for everyone.” XDA Developers believe the feature was only added in Android 7.1 Nougat and must be manually enabled to work properly.

Why isn’t the feature available for everyone? And why hasn’t the mode been released to the public? It is, after all, a good thing, right?

Some believe Google has stayed quiet to keep malefactors from finding a way to program around panic detection mode. Still, overriding variables in a phone’s configuration is far more difficult than creating malware. Even the most experienced hackers will find themselves confused.

While it’s good to see Google working hard to protect Android device users from dangerous, rogue applications, more questions are raised by panic detection mode than answered. Does Google believe rogue applications present a significant security problem? What kind of issues are associated with these applications? And how can consumers work to protect themselves?

If this mode is set to become the new norm, Google has taken a step in the right direction. We just hope it doesn’t disappear in the next update – shrugged off as an upgrade that wasn’t meant to be.
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