Google’s New Smart Lock Is a Password Manager for All of Us

Amid all the high-profile Google I / O news, the company quietly overhauled Chrome’s password manager. It’s now part of the updated Smart Lock service, and if you haven’t started using a secure app to store your passwords yet, this is for you.

What’s really new?

Google – or more accurately, Chrome – has had an impromptu password manager for a long time. You’ve probably seen this before: every time you enter a password on a site, Chrome asks if you want to save that password for later. This used to be a pretty awful way of storing passwords until Google fixed it about a year ago. However, this feature was nothing more than a slightly fancier version of the “Leave me signed in” phrase on websites.

Now the whole system has been updated and the Google Smart Lock feature has been added. If this name sounds familiar, you probably used it on your Android phone. Initially, Smart Lock allowed you to unlock your Android phone if it was connected to a trusted Bluetooth device (like a smartwatch ) or was in a safe place ( like at home ).

In addition to enabling Chrome’s password manager in Smart Lock, the entire platform has several new features:

  • You can manage your passwords from the Internet: if you visit , you will see a list of all the passwords you have saved in Chrome. This is protected by Google’s standard two-factor authentication (which you should be using). Even on the computers you are logged in to, you will have to re-enter your account password in order to access the list.
  • You can now save (some) app passwords: before, you could only save passwords for websites, but now Smart Lock can save your passwords in some apps too. There are already several apps that support this feature, including LinkedIn, The New York Times, and thankfully Netflix. Hopefully Smart Lock will be supported by others soon.
  • Automatic login eliminates app login entirely: For supported apps, Smart Lock doesn’t just save your passwords, it can optionally skip the login screen entirely. When you first log into the app on a new device, you will see a blue bar at the bottom with your Google account, but you will be immediately redirected to the main screen of the app. The process is completely invisible. However, if you don’t like it, you can turn off automatic login in Google settings .

Now, if you’re an avid LastPass user (or any of our favorite password managers ), you’re probably not very impressed. Smart Lock is a serious attempt – and, frankly, much better than not using a password manager at all – but it’s also a catch-up game.

Where Smart Lock is cool

Calling Smart Lock a “password manager” would be wrong. Google is trying to create a complete identity solution. Your bluetooth device will unlock your phone. Your phone will unlock your Google account using two-factor authentication. Your Google account will unblock all your logins. It is designed as an army of cross-reference checkpoints that ensure that you are the one with access to your account and no one else. Thus, Smart Lock has several advantages:

  • It’s completely free: LastPass is free for the desktop browser, but it costs money to use it on a smartphone. 1Password is a paid app for any platform. While most password managers are worth the money, not everyone will pay for it. If you still haven’t spent your money on a more robust password management service, Google’s system is at least worth checking out. It’s also probably worth recommending to your friends and family, who would never pay for a password manager at all.
  • Your Google account is your master key: this may be a disadvantage for some, but if you are a regular Google user, logging into your account counts as authentication. Not only can this be very convenient, but it also means that the primary way to access your passwords is fairly secure.
  • Smart Lock doesn’t just protect your passwords: syncing passwords to your phone can be a security risk if you don’t use a PIN or password lock . However, Smart Lock as a platform encourages you to keep your phone secure as well, eliminating the inconvenience of unlocking your device at home or in other secure environments.

The main advantage of Smart Lock is its convenience. If you are the type to often imagine a scenario where a masked robber steals your phone and uses it to hack your online dating profile and use it to send threatening messages to the Pentagon, Smart Lock is not for you. If you are the type of person who hates reading articles about password managers because the phrase “password manager” puts you to sleep, Smart Lock is probably for you. It’s better than doing nothing, and each feature is designed to provide maximum security without getting in your way.

Where Smart Lock Fails

If you’re an avid LastPass user (like my boss), don’t worry. The password manager part of Smart Lock is still not as good as other solutions. Part of the reason these services are worth paying for is because they are not just meant to be a list of passwords. They need to protect your data . Thus, Smart Lock is missing a few things:

  • Smart Lock does not have a password generator: this is a pretty serious bug and we hope Google will fix it. Protecting your passwords doesn’t really matter as long as you use the same passwords for everything. Services like LastPass can generate long, complex passwords that you’ll never remember, and then remember them for you . That’s just the point. Unfortunately, Smart Lock still relies on you to create your own secure passwords.
  • It only works on Chrome and Android: if you use any browser other than Chrome, iPhone, or even non-Chrome Windows apps, you’re out of luck. Technically, Smart Lock can remember your passwords, but you’ll manually search for them on the Internet, which you really shouldn’t. In fact, there isn’t even an Android app, so the only way to access your passwords on a mobile device (besides the supported Android apps) is by opening on your phone.
  • It can’t store any other information like credit cards or secure notes: We talk a lot about LastPass as a password manager, but you can also use it to safely store other sensitive information. You can write down your credit card numbers, insurance information, or anything else you need for security. Smart Lock cannot do any of this.

At the moment, most of the paid password managers have a pretty big head start on Google. They have more advanced features, are on more platforms, and have been around for longer. Plus, if you’ve read this far, at least one of them probably already has your money (and your data). If you like it, you don’t have many reasons to switch.

Who is Smart Lock for?

So far, Google doesn’t appear to be aiming to topple existing password managers. In fact, it’s not even creating a password manager. Smart Lock is designed with one simple goal in mind: get rid of laziness . Despite the seemingly endless flood of companies getting hacked , it is still a chore to convince most people to take even basic steps to protect their safety .

The problem is not that there are no security solutions. The point is, many people simply won’t use them. It’s designed to work with apps you’re already using (assuming you’re using Google services, of course) to solve problems you don’t want to solve on your own. This is for your aunt, your colleague, or your humble friend who doesn’t want to pay to sign up to use the mobile app.

On the plus side, it doesn’t suck anymore. While there are still a few fully functional options, Smart Lock is no longer clearly insecure. At least it’s no more insecure than your Google account. The very obvious problems that Chrome password manager had in the past are gone, and there are now some useful new features. It’s better than nothing.


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