Update: The “unlocked” devices Netflix is refusing to support may refer to bootloader-unlocked devices rather than carrier-unlocked devices. Carrier unlocking refers to the practice of allowing a device purchased from one company to run on another company’s network, while bootloader unlocking allows a smartphone to run a completely different version of Android (or in some cases, an entirely different operating system). Not all phone manufacturers lock their bootloader and some manufacturers that do lock their bootloaders don’t lock every single SKU they manufacture. It is unclear if the new Netflix app distinguishes between devices that were unlocked by the end user and devices that were purchased with an unlocked bootloader from their manufacturers. Thanks to reader Jeff Bowles for catching this possibility.
Original Story Below:
For years, Android owners who wanted a greater range of freedom when using their devices have had the option to root them. The term refers to “root access,” which gives the end user control over options that the phone’s manufacturer had previously prevented them from accessing. Rooting can be used to update a device to a different or new OS, remove applications the OEM installed by default, or install special applications that require administrative access and cannot run on a non-rooted device.
The vast majority of Android users never bother with rooting their hardware. But it’s a useful way for power users to keep a device updated after the OEM has abandoned it, or to simply add features and capabilities that weren’t previously available. The majority of applications in the Google Play Store run on rooted or unrooted devices without any problems. Netflix, however, has decided to buck this trend with the latest version of its own app. The company has confirmed that devices that are not “Google-certified or have been altered” are no longer capable of accessing the mobile service. Disturbingly, this appears to apply to devices that are rooted or unlocked.
A Netflix spokesperson told Android Police the following:
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.
Now, in theory, this has been done to make certain that Google’s Wildvine DRM technology isn’t bypassed by a rooted device. But Android Police reports that it’s also blocking devices that have simply been unlocked. There’s a significant difference between the two states. An unlocked device has simply been modified to allow it to be used with multiple carriers, as opposed to rooting, which gives the user much more control over the phone and could theoretically be used to facilitate piracy. Most phone manufacturers sell unlocked devices on the open market (without any kind of subsidy or discount arrangement) and OEMs often will unlock a device on request, provided it’s fully paid off.
But the Netflix application itself hasn’t been prevented from running. It’s the download and store listing that are blocked. Android Police notes that whether you can download the Netflix app seems linked to a device’s SafetyNet status, not whether it supports Google’s Wildvine DRM. SafetyNet is an API that checks whether the bootloader on a device is locked; AndroidPay is disabled on devices with unlocked bootloaders regardless of whether those devices are rooted or not.
SafetyNet and Wildvine are two distinct technologies, which makes the whole issue rather strange. Netflix is claiming it implemented this change due to Wildvine, but it’s not checking Wildvine status to determine whether to allow installation of Netflix. To get around this problem, if you install Netflix via a website like APKMirror, it still works normally on an unlocked, rooted device — at least for now.
Now read: Why you should (or shouldn’t) root your Android device