Google Pixel 6a fingerprint scanner could have a dangerous security flaw

Google Pixel 6a review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The first big Google Pixel 6a flaw may have just been discovered. Unless of course, you don't mind random people being able to unlock your phone with their fingerprint.

Youtubers Beebom (opens in new tab) and Geekyranjit (opens in new tab) (via BadlyInfected on r/Android (opens in new tab)) both published videos demonstrating how the Pixel 6a can be unlocked with unauthorized fingerprints held on the under-display scanner. Beebom showed this problem at its most dramatic at 1:14 in the video below, with three members of his team able to unlock the phone after registering only three different fingerprints from two other people.

Meanwhile, Geekyranjit was able to unlock the phone using his unregistered left thumb after setting up his right thumb to unlock it. Not as bad as what Beebom showed, but still a problem. 

We'll try this ourselves with our Pixel 6a review unit and see if we can replicate the problem, and report back. In our Pixel 6a review, we found the sensor to be quite reliable, although it sometimes needed a longer than expected press for the phone to recognize the fingerprint and open up.

Google Pixel phones are unfortunately infamous for launching with bugs and hardware issues, so it would be surprising if the Pixel 6a didn't have something wrong with it at launch. Given how many Pixel 6 problems were discovered after those phones launched, it's possible this won't be the last snag we see with the Pixel 6a, particularly once it goes on open sale on July 28.

The main question right now is what's causing these unauthorized unlocks. Our assumption is that it's a problem with unrefined software since both of these users are reviewing pre-release devices. However, we also know that the Pixel 6a uses a different sensor than the less reliable one in the Google Pixel 6, so this change may contribute to the problem as well.

We'll have to hope this is a software issue that Google can patch out rapidly because this is otherwise a pretty glaring flaw with the phone that would rightly put off potential buyers. And while we prefer the Pixel 6a to the Samsung Galaxy A53 or the iPhone SE (2022), neither suffer from this problem. These latter phones may therefore be the best cheap phones for users who don't want to risk getting a Pixel 6a with a dodgy fingerprint reader, despite the phone's performance and photography ability.

Next: There is a new secret hack to unlock a 90Hz display on the Pixel 6a.

Richard Priday
Senior Writer

Richard is a Tom's Guide senior writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.