Samsung has added a “repair mode” to its Galaxy smartphones, hiding users’ data when they entrust an ailing device to a technician.
When activated, repair mode prevents a range of behaviors – from casual snooping to outright lifting of personal data – by blocking access to photos, messages, and account information.
The mode provides technicians with the access they require to make a fix, including the apps a user employs. But repairers won’t see user data in apps, so content like photos, texts and emails remains secure.
When users enable repair mode their device reboots. To exit, the user reboots again after logging in their normal way and turning the setting off.
Samsung said it is rolling out repair mode via software update, initially on the Galaxy S21 series within South Korea, with more models, and perhaps locations, getting the functionality over time.
Samsung has not explained how the feature works. Android devices already offer the chance to establish accounts for different users, so perhaps Samsung has created a role for repair technicians and made that easier to access.
Most repair technicians won’t want to view or steal a customer’s personal data – but it does happen.
Apple was forced to pay millions last year after two iPhone repair contractors allegedly stole and posted a woman’s nudes to the internet. That fiasco was in no way an isolated incident. In 2019 a Genius Bar employee allegedly texted himself explicit images taken from an iPhone he repaired and was subsequently fired.
One internet user even claimed a repair technician used his phone to leave himself a positive review for repair services.
Repair mode could also come in handy in situations such as domestic abuse or personal protests against overzealous immigration agents.
And while it’s not yet a feature on most laptops, its surely one Hunter Biden would have appreciated before dropping off his laptops for repairs. The contents of his hard drives – and the veracity of reports about their retrieval – are quite the political football. ®