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.

Filed Under: android, copyright, drm, piracy, rooted, widevine
Companies: google, netflix


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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 May 2017 @ 11:15pm

    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.

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