I was showing my new Google Pixel 6a smartphone to my friend Pavlo the other night. When I handed him the phone, it was locked. Then he found himself staring at my home screen. He had placed his finger on the screen where the phone scans for fingerprints, and the phone had unlocked.
I exclaimed. My heart rate increased.
“Pavlo!” I said. “That isn’t supposed to happen.” He pressed the power button to lock the phone and then attempted to unlock it again. It was successful. My pupils dilated. He did it again and again, surprising our neighbors. Fortunately, no one else in the room could unlock my phone.
I searched online and discovered that other people have had similar problems since the phone became available last month. Some users were able to unlock the Pixel 6a with fingers that had not been registered in the device’s settings. Furthermore, two YouTube channels demonstrated that people could unlock a Pixel 6a even if their fingerprints were not saved in the phone.
In general, both consumers and corporate employees want to keep the information on their devices private. People will expect their devices to not inadvertently grant access to strangers, let alone friends or family members. That means this isn’t the best thing that could happen to Google’s fast-growing Pixel line of smartphones that compete with Apple’s iPhone’s and Android.
According to Canalys, a technology industry research group, Google shipped 800,000 smartphones in the United States in the second quarter, a 230% increase year on year. According to Canalys, Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and TCL all shipped more phones in North America than Google.
The $449 Pixel 6a has the same Google Tensor chip as the Pixel 6 from 2021, which Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet’s parent company Google, told analysts in April is the “fastest-selling Pixel ever.”
The Pixel A line, which includes the Pixel 6a, is intended to offer similar technology to Google’s flagship models at a lower price.
Although the Pixel 6a can be configured without enabling the fingerprint unlock feature, it remains a popular alternative to a passcode.
“The under-display fingerprint sensor in Pixel 6a was tested to meet the industry standard for security, which is 1 in 50,000 attempts,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC in an email. “We are constantly improving our fingerprint performance, stability, and reliability, and users should make sure they are running the most latest version of Android 13.”
According to Apple’s website, the likelihood of two distinct fingerprints matching a single finger enrolled in Touch ID technology is one in 50,000. For comparison, the chances of correctly guessing a person’s four-digit passcode to unlock a device are one in 10,000.
Face recognition-based phones from other manufacturers have experienced authentication issues. In 2017, family members who were not identical managed to unlock Apple’s iPhone X, and in 2019, people discovered that unlocking Samsung’s Galaxy S10 with a photo of the phone’s owner was possible.
Even though it’s uncommon, the fact that someone else’s fingerprint unlocked my phone scared me. If you’re concerned about it, you could use another authentication method instead.