Code in Android 5.1 Hints Google Will Offer a VPN Service

Inspections of an Android 5.1 firmware update indicate that Google may be planning to operate a VPN service.

Google WiFi VPN 2

A new system application in Android 5.1 Lollipop has some Google watchers wondering if the company might be planning to operate a VPN service for Android users.

Tech website Pocketables discovered the application, dubbed “Google Connectivity Services,” when poking around the recently released Android firmware update on a Google Nexus 6.

Pocketable’s reviewer placed a shortcut to the application on his device’s home screen using QuickShortcutMaker and then launched the application. The action prompted a pop-up message informing the user that: “To help protect you on open WiFi networks, your data will be transmitted securely through a Google VPN.”

When the reviewer clicked on “Got It,” the pop-up screen opened a VPN connection request screen with a message about Google WiFi Assistant wanting to set up a VPN connection to monitor network traffic.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to actually connect to any VPN, using an open WiFi network, a secured WiFi network, or LTE,” the Pocketables reviewer noted. “It’s unclear when Google will launch this feature, whether it will be open to everyone or just certain types of users, or if Google might discontinue it, like it did with App Opps,” the reviewer said. App Opps was a hidden feature in Android KitKat that would have given users more options for app permissions.

Android Police speculated the connectivity services application in Android 5.1 could relate to Google’s plans to become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) in the U.S. Under the plan, Google will buy wireless services in bulk from carriers like T-Mobile or Sprint and resell them under its own brand in much the same fashion as Tracfone Wireless, Virgin Mobile and others do as MVNOs.

Google has said it will use both cellular telephony and WiFi to deliver the service. So it is possible that Google is targeting the VPN service specifically at subscribers of Google’s wireless service, code named Nova, Android Police said.

According to the site, there’s very little on the surface of the new connectivity application beyond just a couple of popups. There’s also no indication that the application is connecting to the rumored wireless service, it added. However, a deeper inspection of the application code shows the name ‘Nova’ appearing multiple times in it, Android Police said.

“Of course, if Nova subscribers are intended to make extensive use of public WiFi networks, Google would want to be proactive about protecting its customers from tampering,” Android Police said.

According to the website, the code it inspected is primarily meant for implementing network protocols and for remote service connectivity. “But it is indisputability meant to talk to Nova.”

The code inspection also showed that Google intends to use the Google Connectivity Services application as a way for users to provide feedback on the quality of public WiFi networks that they encounter.

“It looks like there will be a simple reporting dialog that allows users to provide descriptions about quality of a connection,” Android Police concluded after inspecting the code.

The code also suggests that Google may be planning on using the quality of service data that it receives from users to direct subscribers to networks that are determined to be of high quality, it noted.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.