A few years ago while freelancing, I wrote a bunch of guides for rooting specific Android phones, and the steps you needed to go through for each one. It wasn’t the most thrilling writing assignments I’ve ever had, but it was fairly straightforward. After the root, you had an Android handset that you could customise to your heart’s content, without the man stopping you. In this performance, the man is played by your mobile network, or the handset manufacturer.
But with my latest handset, I never bothered doing it, despite the process being so deeply ingrained in my psyche that I’d basically be able to do it blindfolded now. Why? Android Pay. If you root your phone, Android Pay doesn’t work for security reasons, and I decided I prefered contactless payments to the marginal gains I saw rooting as offering.
Now, with version 5.0 of the Netflix Android app, if you’re on a rooted device it simply won’t show up for a search in the Google Play store, and will appear with a “Your device isn’t compatible with this version” message if you visit the page directly.
The move was first spotted by Android Police, who later received a statement from Netflix explaining the move – and yes, it seems to be a fear of piracy that’s driving the move. “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.”
Widevine is Google’s own DRM operation, and Netflix’s sudden embrace of it may have something to do with the fact that you can now download Netflix shows to watch offline. It’s much easier to pirate a download than a stream, and those with root access to the system could theoretically find it easier to dodge copy protection systems than those in lockdown.
Which is a little harsh on those who just want to root their system for custom ROMs or to ditch the otherwise immovable bloatware. The good news for those people is that the app seems to work when sideloaded onto the system – for now anyway. It would certainly be trivial for Google to close this loophole, should it choose to do so.