New Netflix DRM Blocks Rooted Phone Owners From Downloading The Netflix App

from the driving-users-to-piracy dept

As this site has long documented, DRM more often than not provides a false sense of security to those terrified of piracy, yet just as frequently annoys paying customers — ironically driving those customers to the piracy alternatives the DRM was supposed to prevent in the first place.

The latest example of this phenomenon: with the latest version 5.0 of the Netflix app, Netflix is now leaning entirely on Google’s Widevine digital rights management system. With Netflix recently introducing downloadable shows (assuming the license for that specific program allows it), Netflix’s programming partners likely wanted Netflix to utilize Widevine to ensure that Netflix’s app “only works with devices that are certified by Google and meet all Android requirements.”

The problem is that there are countless enthusiasts who enjoy rooting their devices and installing custom ROMs… and don’t pirate Netflix content. Yet when these users look for the Netflix app in the Google Play store, they’re now greeted with this warning message telling them that the device they legally own is no longer compatible with Netflix’s app:

Netflix confirmed its updated DRM plans to Android Police, acknlowledging that not only will the app not be downloadable for rooted phones, but the app itself may no longer even show up in the Play store:

“With our latest 5.0 release, we now fully rely on the Widevine DRM provided by Google; therefore, many devices that are not Google-certified or have been altered will no longer work with our latest app and those users will no longer see the Netflix app in the Play Store.”

The thinking on the part of Netflix and broadcasters is that those with rooted phones and custom ROMs have greater control over the OS, and therefore have a better chance of being able to bypass the DRM. But again, many of these folks simply modify their devices because they enjoy the greater flexibility it provides, not necessarily because they’re looking to pirate content. Now, those users are faced with a choice of either giving up additional control over their device just to watch Netflix, or heading to piracy alternatives if they want to watch Netflix programs.

The app’s listing in the Google Play store appears to be determined by whether or not your device is cleared to run Android Pay, not Widevine. That means that if you’ve simply got your bootloader unlocked — and you haven’t even fully rooted your phone or installed a custom ROM — you can still be denied access to Netflix even if you’re still using a secure, stock implementation of Android. As a result, many of these users have left reviews for the app warning Netflix that their decision to punish them for modifying devices they own may simply drive them to piracy:

To be clear, this isn’t exactly the apocalypse. There are methods that allow you to hide the fact that your device has been rooted, and many users say they’re still able to sideload the Netflix app to the devices (for now). But the fact remains that these customers aren’t technically doing anything wrong, but are being punished anyway. All for what’s likely a largely false sense of security, given all of the content these companies believe they’ve secured is going to wind up on BitTorrent networks anyway. As such, the only real net result? Annoyed paying (and now possibly former) customers.

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Companies: google, netflix

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Comments on “New Netflix DRM Blocks Rooted Phone Owners From Downloading The Netflix App”

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Espryon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Kinda wondering if you can really intercept content from Netflix if you have a rooted phone/bootloader unlocked. Are their fears of being able to intercept DRM content true with rooted devices? Also good point about getting your content elsewhere, there are so many pirate streaming sites online. I remember how the MPAA tried to shut down that streaming subreddit on reddit, that was pretty hilarious. What better way to get people to purchase your content than attack them with legal threats because they can’t get your content legally either because of where they live not having proper infrastructure and/or not being able to afford it. Many people in remote parts of the world on /r/siliconvalleyHBO express frustration that they can’t actually purchase the content legally until it comes out on DVD, and in thus they can’t watch new episodes until months later.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Kinda wondering if you can really intercept content from Netflix if you have a rooted phone/bootloader unlocked. Are their fears of being able to intercept DRM content true with rooted devices?

Sure. Likely with non-rooted devices too. (Motivated people always find a way to bypass DRM.) There are WEBRiPs of all the Netflix shows online as soon as they’re out.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree.

There’s no reasonable reason one should not have root on their own devices (and cars and tractors and toasters)

100% sham I say, 100% sham.

And Netflix, I just don’t know. With VPNs and now this It’s like they pulled a “can’t beat them so join them” only they did beat them and they’re still joining them. Locking up and out, digital retardation.

Content is strangling the digital world. It’s a little ironic.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

While Netflix is producing their own content, they have to keep cutting deals with the cartels.
The cartels imagine every pixel not controlled is costing them billions.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, they made use of the Google solution.

Netflix knows this is stupid, Google knows this is stupid, The cartels smugly assume this will end piracy forever.

Netflix is going to get burned because the number of people who are willing to still pay for an account while having to explore alternative methods for accessing that content is low.

Who suffers – People who willingly paid everyone.
Who isn’t suffering – People who were already downloading the content without an account.
Group 1 will join Group 2, making the problem worse.

The basic problem is insane dreams of control & fear.
The cartels made huge bank on VHS while at the same time calling it the boston strangler & inventing new ways to ‘protect’ the content that punished paying people.
The cartels made bank on plastic discs, but fear of copying made them spend extra money to create rental versions stripped of actual features while piling retail discs with even more forced ads & demands not to steal what you already paid for.

Content is now digital. You can’t get the price you got for plastic storage mediums. You can’t control that some people are so frustrated with the decades of control demands they just went outside the proper channels.

Netflix – it caused a drop in piracy, then cartels demanded more control & limited content so they could get 1000 different deals for every region rather than a global plan. This demand will hamper Netflix doing good… perhaps this is the end goal. Force Netflix out & we’ll have to go back to worshipping at the ‘Ultraviolet’ altar… because no ones ever beaten the industry at this.

Perhaps its time to stop paying execs who worry more about keeping control of the content then making it as available as possible so they can get paid.

The world… it changed several times while you guys were still charging vinyl breakage charges in contracts & trying to kill off any new technology you dreamed could hurt the business, ignoring that every time you did this you made yet another generation of pirates. You are making your nightmares worse. You exist to sell content to consumers, stop pretending it gives you the right to control how, where, when the consumer wants to consume it. Be glad they paid you & treat them better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Force Netflix out & we’ll have to go back to worshipping at the ‘Ultraviolet’ altar

More like the libdvdcss2 and Handbrake altar. (Which I never left in the first place.)

I don’t need Netflix or any app that considers the device owner untrustworthy on my device. If it’s afraid I might PEEK at what it’s doing, or POKE it’s memory if I catch it misbehaving, to the point of refusing to run, then there is every reason in the world for me to distrust the app.

I’m considered a pirate regardless as to what I do. If they fail to meet their expected profits, it’s chalked up to "theft" without any evidence. Then that unproven claim is used as justification to demand more draconian enforcement measures. It’s an endless cycle. It matters not if I purchase the movie (I do) or torrent it. The latter is always assumed. So I don’t care about breaking their rules. Also heads up for Netflix when they find out that the API they used to check the bootloader status is under the control of the end user. I can’t wait to see what they do then. In the meantime, back to Kodi.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ultraviolet was the insane ‘digital’ bonus…
required you to log into like 4 different websites, only on approved things, oh and it expired pretty quickly…

but advertised as a “bonus” for having bought the disc.

They demand so much control but if the disc gets scratched and is unplayable they want you to pay for a new one. There is no reasonable trade off for allowing them to dictate the how where when of you enjoying content you paid for.

Jinxed (profile) says:

I stopped paying for Netflix last year when they wouldn’t allow me to access their website through a VPN.

Their excuse was “we can’t match the billing data with the account login”.

They treat me as if this is my problem for wanting to protect my online privacy.

Thankfully, Amazon Prime doesn’t have any issues with my VPN services that’s on every device we use.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That can’t be it, since you can travel and access Netflix no problem when you’re physically in the region (I do this every weekday as I work in a different country from where I live). There’s never a problem, Netflix just show me a different selection depending on where I’m located. I’ve accessed Netflix in the last year from at least 7 countries on 2 continents, and I’ve never seen anything questioning the account or billing. I used to use VPNs a while back too, and never saw it – if you try now you usually get something about being in the wrong region, not referring to billing.

The actual reason for disallowing VPNs is that licencing is such a convoluted mess. While Netflix show their own content worldwide, everything they licence is subject to restrictions and titles have to be licenced in different ways for different countries. This has led to a huge disparity in the number and quality of titles on offer across the world. Consumers worked out that people in many places are paying more for less, so they used VPNs to access Netflix from places such as the US where there’s much better content available. This messes with Netflix’s licencing deals, and since the studios would rather give customers a bad deal than change their outdated and convoluted licencing models, Netflix had to block VPNs.

StudiosDummy says:

It's the Studios Licensing Not Specifically Netflix

Not standing up for Netflix per say, just saying how many times does it need to be stated, blame the studios for their licensing terms – Netflix follows the license agreement and of course geoblocks.

Take that outrage and anger and vent it where it’s best applied, to the MPAA, the studios who utilize these outdated license terms.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's Netflix choosing to implement their obligations badly

Netflix is the one at fault here. First, they display a misleading to outright wrong message when they block the user. They should admit directly why the device cannot use their viewer app. No hiding the app on the play store. No vague "Device is not compatible" lies. A straight out statement: "Your device appears not to support our Digital Restrictions Management software. Tap here to learn more.", where here would link to a more thorough explanation. Preferably, it would be an explanation that FSF and EFF could agree was fair.

Second, they block downloading the viewer app, so users with affected devices cannot view ANY Netflix content through the app, even if they are only interested in content that is NOT subject to the more onerous licensing terms.

Third, as mentioned in the article, they couldn’t even identify the right criterion for whether to block the device. They keyed it to a feature that was loosely correlated with the condition they wanted to identify, then shrugged off the collateral damage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's the Studios Licensing Not Specifically Netflix

Not standing up for Netflix per say, just saying how many times does it need to be stated, blame the studios for their licensing terms – Netflix follows the license agreement and of course geoblocks.

Bullshit. Netflix have refused to publish stuff without DRM even when the author won’t allow DRM.

As for the article’s comment that "these customers aren’t technically doing anything wrong," I disagree. They’re funding DRM, and they’re funding studios who want to restrict us.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's the Studios Licensing Not Specifically Netflix

I think this is such a minor issue. Do I like it, NO! But the majority of people with Android phones are not rooting them, jail breaking them or whatever. They’re pretty much stock. If they change a wall paper it would be huge. Let alone a ring tone.

It’s not the tiny fraction of people that hang around a tech site that it might effect. People bitch about Netflix not having enough content, and Netflix goes and gets it, but they have to follow the dumb DRM rules just like everyone else. The biggest reason for doing this is because Netflix is allowing shows to be copied onto devices. Not wanting people to have a copy when they cancel their subscription. it should disappear from their device. or if the program is removed from Netflix is should disappear from those that installed in on their device.

Until DRM can be tossed to the wayside like it was for Music, this is what it is. I assume even music services that stream to you and you can download some of their content that it also has DRM crap to that. At least when you buy a song, there’s no more DRM. If you buy a movie, there should be no DRM on that.

SirWired (profile) says:

Meh; I doubt NetFlix cares about the lost business

I very much doubt that the group of users that has rooted/unlocked Android devices AND would drop the service over this is large enough for them to care.

(Speaking for myself, I’ve never watched Netflix on my phone; it’s all on my iPad or TV. I guess it might be different if I had to spent an hour a day on a train commute or something…)

Anonymous Coward says:

so, Netflix screwed rooted phone owners and it got screwed at Cannes. tit for tat and serves it fucking rights! not long ago it was fighting tooth and nail to get somewhere. no it has, it’s fighting tooth and nail to stop others getting anything from it it doesn’t want to give! just as selfish as the rest of the ass holes in the industry!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Is the amount of people who rooted their Android devices but can’t work around app DRM really that big? Yes, it’s your device. Yes, it’s your subscription. Yes, it’s an annoyance. I can’t imagine though that this is bothering more than 0.001% of Netflix’s subscriber base.

It’s also not the first DRM Netflix ever used. Netflix scrambles outbound via streams that connect to HDMI pass-throughs and other recording devices. Netflix bends to the whims of region locked content.

I mean this does matter could we pick a slightly larger molehill?

Nurlip (profile) says:

I’m pissed about this and I can’t even root my phone anymore. I am one of the users mentioned in the article, i have previously rooted all my devices simply b/c i like the enhanced settings doing so provided. I am not able to root now b/c the app i use for work does not function on rooted devices. That also annoyed me initially but there are enough apps now that i can get the settings i want w/o rooting so its not an issue (other than the knowledge that i *can’t* root my phone, irk). I figured netflix would stop being worth it once they get their in house content production % up to what they promised, something like 50% i think. Most of what they have put out since publishing their goal is crap, proving that they just want to meet the goal rather than produce a thousand hours of ‘house of cards’ quality television. I was gonna drop out at that point but i might do so out of principle sooner.

However, I think i’ll wait until trump is impeached.

KCK (profile) says:

Missing the Point I Believe

Netflix is being forced to accept the studios terms. They have chosen to “enforce” these DRM restrictions in the weakest possible way. It’s very easy to be both rooted AND pass AndroidPay. If this is the only requirement to continue to watch netflix on my phone, this is no requirement at all.

This sounds like a wink and a nod to me.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong…

Nurlip (profile) says:

Re: Missing the Point I Believe

Its not like the play store shows you the warning but if you tap install twice t lets you install it anyways… that would be the ‘wink and the nod’ you referenced.

This move is more equivalent to laser eyes……… that restrict thousands of users who were not previously restricted from accessing a service they already pay for.

Anonymous Coward says:

the inability to root a device you have bought, that you own, is yet another notch on the belts for those who want to keep total control of what they sell, even though they have done what they wanted, ie, made something with the sole purpose of exchanging it for money, for reward. they wanted to sell it but still wanted to dictate what the purchaser, the owner, was allowed to do with it. thanks again to US courts for ruling that even after buying something still doesn’t mean you own it. talk about fucking ludicrous!!

Anonymous Coward says:

A key reason (for me) to root a phone had zero to do with piracy, as I’m sure is the case for lots of people…
It was because I was no longer able to update the apps I used because my phone lacked enough storage space.. (old, low spec phone, but as it still works & runs the apps I need, I’m not replacing it until it breaks as better things to spend my cash on than latest blingy phone)
It lacked storage space to upgrade existing apps due to lots of unwanted junk apps installed by phone manufacturer / telecoms provider plus installed but not used Google android apps (e.g. Translate).
The only way to remove such junk was to root the phone (ludicrous, anything not essential to phone function should be user removable without root, even if it means going through a series of “are you really, really sure” stages for those who do not know what they are doing)
As a bonus (manufacturer had long stopped providing OS updates) with a rooted phone I could burn an enthusiast maintained OS including security patches / updated android version my phone manufacturer had failed to provide (the deliberate ploy of trying to force rapid obsolescence of a device)

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Dear Netflix:

I don’t go through the hassle and expense of using VPN to protect my data, especially on strange networks. I mean, it’s not like coffee house WiFi is insecure and users vulnerable to MITM attacks or anything. The only possible reason for using VPN is to disguise my location. Because that information isn’t available via GPS, cell tower or hotspot geolocation methods. And, you know, so much of your client base uses VPN to cheat your regional filters.

I haven’t rooted my phone and installed a custom OS because it’s an old phone, because I want to get more utility out of it instead of spending hundreds of dollars every year for a new one, and because I want to get the latest OS patches in spite of it having been abandoned by the manufacturer. I don’t use a custom OS because the manufacturer and the carrier each bake in an egregious number of useless apps that chew up precious resources, are distracting, and cannot be removed. I don’t use a custom OS because it has extra features that improve performance, allow customization, provide more choices, and simply improve my overall smartphone experience. Nope, I do it to steal content. Because the hours I’ve spent experimenting and learning how to install Cyanogenmod and getting things juuuust right were so much easier than logging into The Pirate Bay.

Sarcasm because Screw Your Attitude.

Dingledore the Mildly Uncomfortable When Seated says:

why would subscribers pirate?

I can understand the VPN/region hopping blocks they put in. But why would they worry about subscribers pirating? They’re subscribers, they don’t need to pirate.

Maybe they’re users determined to hide their tracks after sneakily watching a lot of Adam Sandler films?

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