Android 7.1 Nougat contains a new “panic” mode that Google has quietly added, but it’s not what you might think.
The panic mode will not automatically alert authorities when you’re in any sort of danger. It’s not that kind of a panic mode. Instead, it’s a clever addition to Android’s anti-malware features, supposed to help you return to the home screen from a malicious app that has hijacked the display and even delete it.
First discovered by xda-developers, the feature isn’t something that you can actively use, nor should you want to discover it.
If, however, you’re one of the unlucky Android users who end up with malware on their devices, the panic mode can help. Google’s enabled a monitor of the back button to automatically force a back action on the phone.
Some malware apps may disable the back button and other buttons, in which case you would not be able to go back to the home screen or other apps. That’s when you’ll panic. Not knowing what’s happening to your phone and why it’s not responding to your command, you’ll continue to frantically press that back button hoping for it to behave naturally.
It’s at that point that Google’s failsafe kicks in. The system would determine that your back button behavior isn’t normal, by looking at the number of button presses and their frequency, and will override the app to re-enable the back action.
Why is Google keeping it a secret? Well, it doesn’t want hackers to find it easily (though they probably will) so they can’t attack it in future malware releases.
Why are we telling you about it? Well, if you don’t know there’s a panic mode, you might think your phone’s back button is broken. And you might not take other steps to secure it after you get back to your home screen. Sure, you may delete the app that keeps hijacking your phone screen as soon as you notice this behavior. But people tend not to delete installed apps. And malware apps may still be up to no good on your Android phone, even after Android restores access to the home screen.
So, if the panic mode is enabled, it might help you regain temporary control of your device. But make sure you delete apps you installed from shady sources if they behave like they shouldn’t. Read more about the technicalities of panic mode at this link.