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Android's upcoming "repair mode" will keep your data safe from snoopy techs

Repair mode would lock your personal data with your lockscreen credentials, while still letting diagnostics be performed.

Published onOctober 18, 2023

  • Google is working on adding a “repair mode” functionality to stock Android.
  • In repair mode, your personal data will not be visible, but the phone’s core functionality will remain accessible to the repair technicians.
  • Entering and exiting repair mode would need your lockscreen credentials.

No matter how expensive your flagship smartphone is, there’s a small chance that you will need a repair during your years of use. Phones have become incredibly durable over the years, but they are still fragile electronics that can break and need repairs. But these phones are also the primary home for a lot of our personal data, making repairs fairly stressful. Not only do you have to back up all of your data, but you also have to wipe your phone for your peace of mind and restore it once you get it back. Google seems intent on making this process a little less stressful for users.

As spotted by Mishaal Rahman, Google has merged commits for a “repair mode” into stock Android.

Add a configuration to enable or disable support for repair mode
Enables or disables the platform’s repair mode. The feature creates a secure environment to protect the user’s privacy when the device is being repaired. Off by default, since OEMs may have had a similar feature on their devices.

Repair mode would let you send your device in for a repair without wiping the data on it. When in repair mode, the service technicians will be unable to access your personal apps and data but will still be able to check the system functionality of your phone for diagnostics.

Mishaal explains that repair mode uses the Dynamic System Updates mechanism, which lets Android smartphones boot into a Generic System Image (GSI). But instead of booting into a GSI, repair mode uses the original system image combined with a new user data image, simulating a fresh instance of the OS. When you exit repair mode, this instance is removed, and you boot back into your previous user data image.

Entering and exiting the repair mode would require your lockscreen password. So, technicians won’t be able to access personal data even after reboots.

We’ve seen OEMs offer similar features on their phone. Samsung has Maintenance Mode in One UI, while Google is slated to provide a Repair Mode on Pixels with the December 2023 Pixel Feature Drop. This new repair mode addition is for the broader Android ecosystem and should be available on future Android releases.

So the next time you need to send in your phone for a green line issue or other defect where your phone is still working condition, you will have fewer things to worry about. A data backup will still remain recommended.

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