If your Android phone is lost or stolen, the platform's built-in Find My Device functionality can help track down, lock, or remotely wipe it, though a change in Android 10 has led to some confusion among our readers. Find My Device has a setting in "Device admin apps," which grants it extra privileges it claims are required to remotely wipe and lock devices, and it appears to be disabled by default on many Android 10 devices, including the Pixel 4. Don't worry, though, you don't need to turn it back on. It turns out, Find My Device doesn't need it to work on Android 10.

The requisite setting that claims it's required to lock or erase a device, but Find My Device can do that on Android 10 without it.

Find My Device has options in more than one location inside Settings, and different options have different descriptions, which can make it hard to follow which settings are required for what, or if it's fully enabled. While the blanket option in Security -> Find My Device might be toggled on by default, there is a second setting for "device admin apps" access which is usually enabled by default, and which Find My Device claims is required to remotely erase or lock the device. Again, while you do need the setting enabled on older versions of Android, you don't need it on Android 10.

Google tells us that the setting is effectively a throwback, only required on devices running Android P and below for it to get access to system-level APIs required to wipe or lock it. On Q/Android 10 and forward it's vestigial, Find My Device can secure the required permissions via another route. After we brought it to the company's attention, they are looking into removing the toggle on Android 10 and later. We've also separately confirmed in our own tests, remotely locking and wiping devices, that this toggle doesn't need to be enabled on Android 10-powered devices like Pixels.

In case you'd like to check to satisfy your own curiosity or check that it's enabled as it should be on older devices, the device admin apps settings screen lives in a few different locations depending on your phone's Android version and manufacturer. On Pixels (or other mostly stock devices), it's in Settings -> Apps & Notifications -> Advanced -> Special app access -> Device admin apps. On recent Samsung phones, it's in Settings -> Biometrics and security -> Other security settings -> Device admin apps. If you can't find it on your own device, the easiest way to track it down is likely just to search via settings for "Device admin apps."

But again, if you notice that it isn't enabled on Android 10, don't worry: Find My Device doesn't actually need it to remotely lock or wipe your device anymore.

  • Thanks:
  • Mark Stronge