Android just got a long-overdue security upgrade — here's how it works

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If you’ve been concerned about the security of your private files on your Android device, then Google has your back. It’s adding PIN protection to the Files by Google app. 

Google is introducing a new “Safe Folder” feature into the file-storage app. You'll have to type in a four-digit PIN to access that folder. And as soon as you switch from the Files app into another app, the contents of the secure folder will lock. 

Files by Google is a non-native Android app that serves as both a place to store files on your phone and to manage storage and transfer files from one device to another via Bluetooth. 

Like other Android file managers, including the one that might have come installed on your phone, Files by Google can also be used as a place to keep private or sensitive files, potentially making it a tantalising app for prying eyes to sift through. 

Some of those other file managers already let you set PINs to protect designated files, so Google is kind of playing catch-up.

But with various biometric and password protection already existing on Android phones, you might wonder why someone would need an extra level of security in the Files by Google app. 

Well, it’s been designed for people who share their phones relatively often; for example, handing your smartphone to your kids when they want to play a game or text their friends. 

Google notes that it’s common in some cultures for phones to be shared between spouses, siblings and children. That means a place for people to safely secure their private files on a device that’ll pass between several pairs of hands a day is likely to be appreciated. 

“As part of Google’s research, we hear the perspectives of people like Shaina — a woman in Bangladesh whose children use her phone after school, both to learn and to play,” Google said in a blog post

“Shaina worries that her important files could be accidentally shared or deleted. For Rashid, a father in India, the lack of privacy means he can’t keep his identity documents on his phone, even if he needs them for job applications.” 

Even for people who don’t share their smartphones, an extra layer of security can be handy if they want to be sure that, say, sensitive work documents or raunchy photographs are kept thoroughly locked away. 

The Safe Folder feature in Files by Google is currently available in beta form but will roll out to more users “over the following weeks,” according to Google. 

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.