Radio Transcript: Google Passkeys and Google Account Recovery Concerns

As per requests, this is a transcript of my national network radio report earlier this week regarding Google passkeys and Google account recovery concerns.

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So there really isn’t enough time tonight to get into any real details on this but I think it’s important that folks at least know what’s going on if this pops up in front of them. Various firms now are moving to eliminate passwords on accounts by using a technology called “passkeys” which bind account authentication to specific devices rather than depending on passwords.

And theoretically passkeys aren’t a bad idea, most of us know the problems with passwords when they’re forgotten or stolen, used for account phishing — all sorts of problems. And I myself have called for moving away from passwords. But as we say so often, the devil is in the details, and I’m not happy with Google’s passkey implementation as it stands right now. Google is aggressively pushing their users currently, asking if they want to move to a passwordless experience. And I’m choosing not to accept that option right now, and while the choice is certainly up to each individual, I myself don’t recommend using it at this stage.

Without getting too technical, one of my concerns is that anyone who can authenticate a device that has Google passkeys enabled on it, will have full access to those Google accounts without having to have any additional information — not even an additional authentication step. And this means that if — as is incredibly common — someone with a weak PIN for example on their smartphone, loses that device or it’s stolen, again, happens all the time, and the PIN was eavesdropped or guessed, those passkeys could let a culprit have full access to the associated Google accounts and lock out the rightful owner from those accounts before they had a chance to take any actions to prevent it.

And I’ve been discussing my concerns about this with Google, and their view — to use my words — is that they consider this to be the greatest good for the greatest number of people — for whom it will be a security enhancement. The problem is that Google has a long history of mainly being concerned about the majority, and leaving behind vast numbers of users who may represent a small percentage but still number in the millions or more. And these often are the same people who through no fault of their own get locked out of their Google accounts, lose access to their email on Gmail, photos, other data, and frankly Google’s account recovery systems and lack of useful customer service in these regards have long been a serious problem.

So I really don’t want to see the same often nontechnical folks who may have had problems with Google accounts before, to be potentially subjected to a NEW way to lose access to their accounts. Again it’s absolutely an individual decision, but for now I’m going to skip using Google passkeys and that’s my current personal recommendation.