An unusual Android bug found by a Reddit user is causing a lot of people to scratch their heads: When typing "the1975..com" (note the extra dot) the poster found all of his recent text messages displayed through Google instead of the content he was searching for.
Other Reddit users chimed in saying that they were getting the same results, with some even experiencing it when they performed a search for "Vizela viagens" (a travel agency in one Reddit user's home town), and the glitch also appeared with variant spellings too.
Reddit users with a wide variety of Android devices said they were affected as well. Particularly interesting is one comment stating that if you type "my text messages" into the search bar you receive the same result. What this means for how Google may be caching text messages is unknown.
Is it a security risk?
Google has yet to issue a statement regarding the bug, and without some acknowledgement of the issue and its scope it's difficult to know if there is any real risk of data exposure.
More likely is the possibility that the bug is connected to Google Assistant, as pointed out by an article on MSPoweruser: "upon testing, I found out that any Android device with Google Assistant has this issue. It isn't certain if this is a deliberate action by Google or just a weird glitch that [lets] Google access the messages stored on the device."
SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)
Google Assistant has been able to read text messages aloud for some time, raising the distinct possibility that Google simply overlooked a few precise search terms that would generate the same result.
Those concerned about the privacy and security of their text messages can protect themselves, and the process is easy. Open the Settings app, tap on the Apps option, and then revoke SMS permissions from the Google app.
There's a good chance this isn't anything more than a simple bug, but taking precautions to protect your personal messages is good to do just in case.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Android users are reportedly finding their text messages in Google Search results when typing specific things like "the1975..com" or "Vizela viagens." It's not known at this point if there is a security risk inherent in this glitch.
- It's more likely that this is a bug tied to Google Assistant's ability to read text messages aloud. If you're still concerned about device security you can disable Google's SMS permissions in the Android Settings app.
- Special report: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- The 10 best ways to secure your Android phone (ZDNet)
- Android beats iOS and Windows as least-secure mobile OS, Nokia report finds (TechRepublic)
- Android security: Your phone's patch level says you're up to date, but that may be a lie (ZDNet)
- Android P adds critical security updates, makes its case as an enterprise OS (TechRepublic)
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.