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
    PaulT (profile), 17 May 2017 @ 1:28am

    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.

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