Google Helps Carriers Lock Down Devices More Thoroughly In Android Q

Google seems to be taking a decidedly anti-consumer approach with at least one aspect of Android Q by enabling carriers to lock devices into a network more completely, based on a recently spotted change in the Android code repository. The row of newly-tested commits designated to the upcoming Android version adds enhancements to carrier restrictions. Those appear to allow even dual-SIM smartphones to be completely locked to a specific carrier at the system level.

Prior to the change, the system simply didn't provide a way for the second slot in a dual-SIM device to be restricted. So carriers could only prevent use a single SIM slot by other providers, allowing users to install a second card for use on another mobile network either locally or internationally. If Google goes forward with this move, service providers would be able to keep the second SIM reader locked down too.

The changes also seem to indicate that the network could be specified to prevent use on secondary virtual networks operating on the primary carrier's towers.

There is a workaround, for now

Google seems to be leaving a workaround in place for international users or those who hold both business and personal lines on the same device. As long as the carrier's own approved SIM card remains installed in the first SIM slot, the second will be available for use, unrestricted. While not directly stated, that card probably needs to remain active on that carrier's network throughout -- limiting the usefulness of the workaround.

In effect, the changes will ensure that an Android phone bought through a carrier is only whitelisted for that carrier and can only be used on other networks while still active on the original carrier network. The goal is almost certainly to ensure that devices purchased through a contract payment plan on a network remain active on that network until they're paid off.

It isn't impossible that Google is implementing the solution in preparation for new partnerships with carriers on its next-generation Pixel lineup, either. Letting providers lock devices into their network could be part of a deal to ensure the full support of carriers when the next handset launches. Whatever the reason for its implementation, that won't be known Google reveals more information about the "feature" when the new OS is detailed at Google I/O 2019 in May.

Not an ideal solution to Google's balancing act

That some consideration for multi-SIM users is still in place highlights that Google is attempting to find a balance between its commitment to carriers and consumers. The legality of unlocking or locking down a smartphone has not always been clearly defined and this move seems to shift more power on that front away from users.

There's no mention of locking away or dismantling the ability to completely unlock a device from a carrier once it's owned by the end-users. So the mechanisms and methods for accomplishing that will probably remain in place even with the new code in Android Q.

The next iteration of Android offers some consolation for users with many improvements and user-facing changes expected with its release. Among those is the widespread rollout of better messaging via RCS support and the addition of a system-wide dark mode.

None of the changes will necessarily offset the newly-imposed solution for carrier locking on Android Q, however, and the move is likely to leave plenty of Android fans exceedingly unhappy.

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About the Author
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Daniel Golightly

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for AndroidHeadlines since 2016. As a Senior Staff Writer for the site, Daniel specializes in reviewing a diverse range of technology products and covering topics related to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and has a background in Writing and Graphics Design that drives his passion for Android, Google products, the science behind the technology, and the direction it's heading. Contact him at [email protected]