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Multiple news outlets are reporting today that Google temporarily did something with some devices running Android 9 Pie that we didn't think was possible: issue a behind-the-scenes update that changed our battery conservation settings.

In a statement on Reddit about the issue, a verified Google representative said, "This was an internal experiment to test battery saving features that was mistakenly rolled out to more users than intended. We have now rolled battery saver settings back to default. Please configure to your liking. Sorry for the confusion."

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If you are using a beta version of Android, the user license agreement gives Google the right to modify system settings for testing purposes, by way of an update sent "over the air" to your device. However, remotely modifying the system settings of devices running the retail version of Android, without informing the user about what's going on, is a new precedent.

Under ordinary circumstances, a user can instruct their Android Pie device to start saving battery juice when it reaches 75 percent capacity. This is supposed to be the highest threshold at which power saving can be enabled. Google's unexpected experiment, however, raised this to 99 percent and turned the feature on without notifying the user.

When Android Pie's Battery Saver function gets triggered, several strong measures are enforced to reduce drain: Location Services are disabled if the device is locked, apps no longer refresh with new data in the background, and some notifications won't even show up.

So there's a usability issue, as well as concerns about exactly what Google is able to do to our phones without explicit consent. Mistake or not, it reveals a new level of access to the operating system inside the phone that may rub independently minded users the wrong way.

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The battery icon in the phone's status bar at the top of the screen also turns red and displays a "+" sign within it, to indicate to the user that the feature has been enabled. So as one might imagine, confusion reigned when this icon flipped red for users who had almost a full battery.

One Reddit user responded to Google's statement by saying, "You are gonna have to explain a bit further as to why this experiment was randomly loaded and turned on without any update or warning onto a bunch of phones. No download, no warning, no reboot, nothing. A bit weird it just randomly happens and then randomly stops."

Google did not respond to the large number of questions posed to its representative on Reddit.

The takeaways

  • Google issued an update to a number of devices running Android 9 Pie that caused the Battery Saver feature to kick in unexpectedly.
  • The company said that this was part of an internal experiment which accidentally made its way to the general public.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.