Leading smartphones have become significantly more expensive in the past few years, so many OEMs and carriers offer payment programs so consumers can choose to pay a portion of the price each month over a period 24 months or more. But what if something unexpected happens and you can’t make a payment for a month or two?
What happens when you default on your device payment plan depends on the company that issued you the loan. For example, Verizon in the US gives you the opportunity to set up a pre-payment agreement and disable access to your network, while Samsung India restricts device functionality based on how long the debt is due. . It seems that Google wants to help banks or other credit providers implement debt collection methods more easily later.
Earlier today, we spotted an app on the Google Play Store called “Device Lock Controller” (h / t @JasonBayton). Here is the description of the app on Google Play:
Device Lock Controller allows device management for credit providers. Your carrier may restrict remote access to your device if you don’t make payments. If your device is restricted, basic functions, such as emergency calling and access to settings, will remain available.
The app uses Android’s DeviceAdminService API to remotely control a device’s functionality. This is the same API that businesses use to control what employees can do with their work phone. Companies that distribute phones to their employees often preload applications that use this API, so there is no way to disable them. Presumably, a credit provider, such as a bank or other financial institution, could preload Google’s Device Lock Controller app before lending the device to a customer, and if the customer was unable to pay. They can lock them from the phone remotely.
The Device Lock Controller app doesn’t appear when you search Google Play or when you go through the Play Store landing page for all apps created by Google. However, the developer of this app is obviously Google, so we reached out to the company for comment but had not received a response before this article was published.
My feelings about this app are mixed, but mostly negative. I understand that creditors are taking the risk of lending, but I think disabling access to most functionality would be counterproductive. Smartphones are the primary computing device for millions of people, especially for those who can’t afford PCs and Internet in their homes. Sure, the Device Lock Controller app still lets you make and receive phone calls, but today there is a lot of business done over the Internet so it’s really important to stay connected.
Update 1: Clarity from Google
A Google spokesperson has reached out to clarify some details about the Device Lock Controller app. For starters, Google said it has launched the app in cooperation with a Kenyan carrier named Safaricom. In a blog post July 28, 2020, titled “Increasing accessibility and inclusion with more affordable smartphones,” Google talked about the launch of a new sponsorship scheme. “Lipa Mdogo Mdogo” (“Pay by Bit”) allows Kenyans to buy new affordable Android Go Edition smartphones. On the Safaricom FAQ page about this funding plan, the carrier says it will “lock the device” after 4 days of non-payment.
But what about the quiet appearance of the app on the Google Play Store? Obviously, that was just a mistake. Google has confirmed that the Device Lock Controller app will not be listed on the Google Play Store for US users, and they will attempt to remove the listing. We reached out to Google to clarify if the company plans to partner with more carriers or financial institutions in the future, and will update this article if we receive a response.