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How to Locate Your Lost or Stolen Android Phone (and Wipe if Necessary)

Thanks to a new native Android tool, you can now easily locate your phone and (in a worst case scenario) perform a remote data wipe. Read on as we show you how to activate the feature on your phone.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

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Whether you’re just prone to losing your phone in your house or you’re worried about data security if your phone is actually stolen, there’s no good reason to skip turning on the security features available through Android Device Manager. It’s free, it has next to no overhead, and you can access it to locate your device and/or remote wipe it from any computer you can log into your Google account from.

Even if you think you’ll never need it, it takes so little effort to turn it on that it would be outright foolish to not do so.

What Do I Need?

To follow along with this tutorial you’ll need the following things:

  • 1 Android device running Android OS 2.2+
  • 1 Google account

Note: While Android Device Manager has been available to Google business account users for some time, Google only started rolling it out to consumer/standard accounts in early August, 2013. If Android Device Manager isn’t on your Android phone yet, check back in a few days to see if you’ve received the update.

Turning On Android Device Manager

By default, the new Android Device Manager feature is turned off. In order to enable it, grab your Android phone and navigate to Settings -> Security ->Device Administrators.  This menu will be available to everyone, even if the update hasn’t officially rolled out to their phone. If your phone has received the update, you’ll see the following entry within the Device Administrators menu:

Go ahead and check the checkbox next to Android Device Manager. You’ll be prompted with the following security screen:

Normally those kind of sweeping powers would be a red flag, but in the case of this particular app we’re specifically using it to allow us to remote wipe our phone and change security settings. Go ahead and click the Activate button.

Note: Users on earlier versions of the Android OS may be required to individually check “Remotely locate this device” and “Allow remote factory reset” before accepting the changes.

Once the Android Device Manager has been activated, you can return to the home screen and resume using your phone.

Managing Your Phone via the Device Manager Web Portal

Once you’ve set up the Android Device Manager on your phone, you can begin managing it from the Android Device Manager web portal, available at: https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager. The first time you access the service you’ll need to accept an agreement to allow Android Device Manager to use your location data.

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After that, you can select your device from the drop-down menu in the corner and perform one of three tasks.

First, using GPS/Wi-Fi location data from the phone, you can locate the phone. This feature is dependent on recent GPS data, and if the GPS/location functionality has been turned off on the phone for a period of time (say, several days), it will simply report that the location is unavailable.

Second, you can ring the device to locate it if it is in earshot. Even if your phone has the ringer turned off or set to vibrate it will switch to the default ringtone at 100% volume. This is the most practical feature of Android Device Manager as not many people routinely deal with device theft, but many of us are guilty of misplacing our devices.

Finally, you can remotely wipe the device. This function initiates a factory wipe on the device. The portion of the warning “We may not be able to wipe the content of the SD card in your device” is a bit ambiguous. Internal storage designated as /sdcard will be wiped. Removable SD cards may be wiped depending on the hardware/OS version. The business version of Android Device Manager has a specific wipe-SD-card functionality, which if not already deployed in the consumer version of Android Device Manager will likely be deployed in the near future.


Have an Android-centric tutorial you’d love to see us tackle? Sound off in the discussion below and we’ll see what we can do.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/14/13

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