Folks who enjoy tinkering with their Android phones have gotten a rude surprise this week: As far as Netflix is concerned, their phones no longer exist, and can no longer install or update the streaming video app.
Android news site Android Police reported Saturday that writers for the site were suddenly unable to see or download the Netflix app from the Google Play store. The problem seemed confined solely to rooted and unlocked devices.
One of the reasons people sometimes buy Android phones is because of how comparatively easy it is to “root” them — do an end-run around the version of Android the manufacturer (Samsung, LG, etc) has installed, giving themselves access to the full suite of Android functions.
This shouldn’t, in and of itself, cause any problem with most Android apps. And indeed, the Netflix app is still working as usual if you’ve already got it on your phone.
If you don’t already have it on your phone, though, good luck getting it — your official channel has just closed. If you’re browsing the Google Play store from a rooted device, Netflix now shows up as “incompatible with this device.”
This is intentional, Netflix told Android Police: “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.”
Turning this back into English, it seems our old friend DRM — digital content locking — is the core of the problem. Widevine is a DRM tool made by Google. The Netflix app now uses it to make sure you’re not stealing and sharing video from their service, but unlocked phones are showing up as incompatible with it because of the way the Google Play store checks.
While the app is still working on phones that already have it, losing the listing from the Google Play store now makes it significantly more difficult for phone owners to download security or feature updates for the app as they’re rolled out. And that, in turn, makes those phones not only less functional, but less safe.