Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Hotspot Shield VPN adds fake quit button and goes online behind your back, use Hideman VPN instead
Shoot the messenger
Sometimes you can't trust the local WiFi connection but you need to check your mail anyway. That's when Virtual Private Networks are useful. They solve the old problem of keeping your messages secret when you can't trust the messenger.
A VPN app encrypts your internet traffic before it gets sent to the WiFi router. Vice versa, the VPN server returns your web traffic in encrypted form and only your phone can decrypt it. This way a rogue access point can't steal your data, although the VPN service can.
VPN servers usually want your money for their services, but there are some free options. Hideman VPN gives you 5 hours of secure internet for free. Hotspot Shield VPN doesn't have any time limits. Too bad it doesn't know when to stop.
Won't go away
Old versions of Hotspot Shield had an exit button to shut down the app. Updates removed the option to quit the program, so its background service would keep running and your notification bar would stay polluted with its very ugly red icon.
Needless to say, negative Play Store ratings and matching comments started piling up, so Hotspot Shield brought the quit button back.
Well, sort of.
The quit button doesn't work. It removes the red icon from your status bar, but the app keeps running. Most apps stay inactive when you dismiss them, but Hotspot Shield keeps kicking when it shouldn't.
When you quit Hotspot Shield its red status bar icon returns after a while, all by itself. And if you look at your network traffic you'll find that Hotspot Shield phones home after it should have been shut down. It comes with a lot of autostart triggers too. Autostart on boot. Autostart on installing, updating, and removing apps. And it won't let you switch any of these autostart triggers off.
As for the data it sends out when it's not supposed to be running, the makers of Hotspot Shield don't tell you what's in those packets.
Tame or kill
You can kill all of Hotspot Shields unwanted behaviour by uninstalling the app. Competing app Hideman VPN doesn't autostart on boot, and when you exit the app you really exit the app. It doesn't spoil your notification bar with ugly icons either.
But Hideman only gives you five free hours of VPN per week. If you want more, you can try to keep Hotspot Shield under control.
When you quit Hotspot Shield it keeps running in the background, but if you switch WiFi off Hotspot Shield goes away. If you switch WiFi back on the app stays away, at least for a while, because it doesn't (yet) have a network state autorun trigger.
You can try to switch its autorun triggers off. Not from within the app, but Gemini App Manager is a very useful tool to tame Hotspot Shield and other unruly apps.
And of course you can always force the app away with the force stop button in the Android application settings. Or automate it with a third party tool, because Hotspot Shield VPN is one of the reasons why task killers sometimes make sense.
Update: Even when I switched off all autostart functions that I could find, Hotspot Shield kept relaunching its background process (called AF Service), and the red icon kept coming back to my status bar. Hotspot Shield kept going online even though I was not using its VPN service, which is totally unacceptable. Judging from the Play Store comments I'm not the only one.
Because Hotspot Shield VPN behaves like malware it is no longer installed on my phone. The five hours per week from Hideman VPN are enough for me, and their quit button really works.
• Hotspot Shield VPN (very intrusive autostart behaviour)
• Hideman VPN (only runs when you want it to run)
• control autostart triggers with Gemini App Manager