Google App Lets Creditors Lock Financed Phones

With a new Google Play app called Device Lock Controller, creditors for installment phone plans have gained the ability to restrict access to one’s phone if they don’t make a payment on time, according to a report from XDA.

But the app wasn’t supposed to be available in the U.S., the company said, per the XDA report.

Google, in an update to the XDA story, called the quiet launch of the app on Google Play a mistake and said the app wasn’t intended to have been launched that way.

Google said it launched Device Lock Controller with Kenya-based Safaricom. In a blog post from July, Google discussed Safaricom’s launch of its “Lipa Mdogo Mdogo,” or “Pay Bit by Bit” service, allowing Kenyans to purchase a phone and pay for it in installments. Safaricom, in its FAQ page, said the device would be locked down after four days of no payments.

The app, according to the report, used the Android DeviceAdminService application programming interface (API) in order to control device functions remotely. The API is also commonly used by employers to control what employees can do on their work phones. Those apps are usually pre-loaded so employees don’t have a method with which to disable them.

The XDA report noted that a creditor, when loaning a phone to a customer, could pre-load the app in the same manner. Then, if the customer falls behind on a payment, the creditor could lock the user out of their phone.

Earlier this year, PayJoy, a startup focused on helping people in emerging markets buy smartphones, raised $20 million in venture funding toward boosting that goal. The company accomplishes its goals of getting smartphones into peoples’ hands through installment payments, with an aim toward financial inclusion that could become more real if more people have access to smartphones.

Google Pay earlier this month added 89 banks compatible with its services, furthering its trend of onboarding financial institutions around the U.S. The tech giant’s app store now enlists almost 3,000 financial institutions.