Hiding behind the scenes in Android 5.1 but nonfunctional at present, a Google-run VPN might keep your data secure on public Wifi networks.
With Android 5.1 Lollipop now out in the wild, Android enthusiasts are starting to dig into the latest firmware for Nexus devices and see what's new. One interesting addition, first spotted by Pocketables, presents the possibility of Google operating its own VPN service to keep Android users' data secure over public Wifi networks.
To help protect you on open Wi-Fi networks, your data could be transmitted securely through a Google VPN.
The Nexus builds of Android 5.1 include the Google Connectivity Services app, which can be seen under "All Apps" in the app manager. Using the QuickShortcutMaker app, which can link to the activities that make up other apps, Pocketables was able to locate the activity for a Wifi assistant — presumably designed to be loaded when connected to an unsecured Wifi network.
The pop-up message that follows tells users that "to help protect you on open Wi-Fi networks, your data will be transmitted securely through a Google VPN." Press "Got it" and you're taken to a dialog asking you to confirm a VPN connection, however that doesn't seem to work. Similarly, the support pages linked in the dialog don't seem to be live yet.
While nothing's official yet, this kind of feature would certainly make sense for Google and Android. It's easy to capture unencrypted data sent to and from open Wifi networks; a VPN would be an obvious way to secure against this, and Google has the resources to pull it off.
Google Connectivity Services and the Google VPN might also relate to the company's plans to launch its own MVNO carrier in the U.S., an effort which according to Android chief Sundar Pichai will involve combining Wifi and cellular telephony. The presence of specialized software on Nexus phones might also explain why the Google MVNO is rumored to only work with the Nexus 6 initially.
It's worth taking all this with a pinch of salt in the absence of any official announcement, of course. But it'll be interesting to see whether the Google VPN sees the light of day, and if so how it connects to Google's wireless ambitions.