Google’s Android OS runs on 80% of the smartphones used in the world. So the possibility exists that an Android device could in the future be involved in a similar situation to which Apple is in now.
Pichai already made it clear
The Apple device recovered from San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook has become a major problem for the FBI since it has not been able to hack into the encrypted device, and Apple has also refused to obey the court order to provide assistance in hacking the device. This has resulted in a huge uproar and discussions about how things would have been if the terrorist had used an Android device instead of an Apple one.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer said Google would feel exactly the same way as Apple under similar circumstances. To Lockheimer, the case appears to have diverged dangerously from the usual data-sharing terms between tech and government. However, he clarified that he was not aware of the specifics of Apple’s situation.
His response was similar to what Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted last week. Pichai noted that the government’s request could result in a troubling precedent, but he did not specify how Google would have responded to a similar request from the government.
Google has no ability to unlock a device
To determine how such a case might unfold, a lot would depend on the Android phone used in such a terrorist attack. Apple uses full encryption, which is a very powerful security system as it stores the lock and “keys” to the device and its data only on the device.
Google also uses full encryption, which it started with Gmail in 2010. Then it went to phones and started offering an encryption option to Android users in 2011. Owing to public pressure after Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, Google turned on full encryption by default on Android devices in 2014 with the Lollipop version of its operating system. Then, last year Marshmallow, it required Android handsets to fully encrypt.
“Google has no ability to facilitate unlocking any device that has been protected with a PIN, Password, or fingerprint,” Android security chief Adrian Ludwig wrote in November. “This is the case whether or not the device is encrypted, and for all versions of Android.”