Google Pixel gets privacy mode to keep your selfies safe from prying repair techs

You'd better have 2GB free on that handset and be running Android 14

Google Pixel owners who need to take their devices in for repair now have an option to protect their data from snooping techs in the form of a new "repair mode." 

The web giant announced the addition of repair mode to select Pixel devices in a blog post this week, describing it as a simple toggleable method of "protecting privacy and making sure devices are repaired quickly and efficiently."

According to a new help page on Google's Pixel Phone support site, repair mode works by creating a clean Android install in a dedicated partition with limited functionality, but without allowing access to the device owner's personal data. 

Access to Google Play, Messages, Text-to-Speech, Google Search and other apps are disabled in repair mode, and other apps designed for technicians are made available only in repair mode, Google said. 

"Most repair techs are trustworthy people who just want to help you get your stuff working again. But it can be nerve-racking to unlock your phone for a stranger, and repair techs shouldn't need access to your data to confirm that the speakers or cameras work," iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens said of the new Pixel feature. "We're glad to see Google introducing this feature that takes the worry and hassle out of sending in a phone for repair." 

Repair mode can be used for both walk-in and mail-in repairs, Google said, and changes to the device made in repair mode, outside of system updates, are undone when repair mode is turned off. 

Google says that using repair mode isn't a guarantee that a technician won't decide to wipe the entire device during the course of a repair if needed, and repair mode doesn't prevent that from happening. 

"If parts that affect the storage need to be replaced during the repair service, the technician must wipe your phone's data even if you have turned repair mode on," Google states on the help page, and advises Pixel owners to still take a full backup before sending the device in for repair. 

For those interested in taking a look at it, repair mode can be found in the Settings app under the System menu on compatible Pixel device – ie, those running Android 14 with the December 2023 update or newer, and with 2 GB of free space available. 

Google isn't the first to introduce such a feature - Samsung added a similar maintenance mode to Galaxy devices with the release of One UI 5 in October 2022.

Google announced a couple of other new self-repair features alongside repair mode this week, the first of which is the ability for anyone with a Pixel device to launch the Pixel Diagnostic app from their phone keypad. Doing so isn't exactly intuitive, however: Users need to open the Phone app and dial *#*#7287#*#*, which fires up a USSD session, and then follow the onscreen prompts. A user manual for the app is available.

Along with repair mode and Diagnostic app access, Google also announced a redesign of its repair manuals to make them more friendly to third-party techs and DIYers. ®

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