Google’s new Pixel 6a smartphone has only just started shipping to those who pre-ordered, but some reviewers have noted a potentially serious bug. According to multiple reports, the latest Google phone can be unlocked with a fingerprint – each fingerprint, even if it’s not the one you registered or it belongs to someone else entirely.
The Pixel 6a has an in-display fingerprint sensor, which is still a relatively new technology for Google. It first offered this feature on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, which launched in late 2021. There were no reports of this multi-fingerprint bug with those phones, but they were slow to unlock. The Pixel 6a, which uses a Goodix optical fingerprint sensor very similar to the Pixel 6, is much faster. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
Optical fingerprint sensors are essentially high-contrast cameras that sit below the display. Your device’s OLED panel lights up above the sensor to illuminate your fingerprint. The way it should work, as you’d expect, is that tapping the sensor with a registered finger will unlock the phone, but reject an unregistered print. Several YouTubers and reviewers have now reported that their Pixels are unlocked with unregistered fingerprints. One even made it work with a fingerprint of someone else’s hand. This is a major security issue, but not unique.
Several years ago, Samsung started using ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensors. The Galaxy S10 misinterpreted the patterns in some screen protectors as elements of the user’s fingerprint. Over time, the algorithm would get confused and anyone would be able to unlock the phone because it can still see the screen protector patterns no matter who taps it. It’s hard to get this right and it looks like Google still has some work to do.
That said, I’ve been testing a Pixel 6a for several weeks and haven’t been able to reproduce the error. The phone only unlocks with my registered fingerprints, and yes, it is slightly faster than the Pixel 6 in that regard. I have no doubt that Google will investigate the issue and there will be an update that addresses the lax security. Whether that makes the Pixel 6a’s sensor as lethargic as the Pixel 6, only time will tell.
The Pixel 6a is still available for pre-order on the Google Store, where it can be yours in black, white, or green for $449. It’s unlocked for use on any carrier.