Android Movie Rental and rooted devices

In May 2011, Google launched its new service of Video rental market for Android phones.  Soon, people discovered that the service was not available for rooted devicesRooting an Android device means giving yourself root permissions on the device.  In other words having FULL control of your phone.  This is not often the case with phones provided by operators.  Rooting is  equivalent to jailbreaking a device.  As Android is an open source system, very attractive to homebrew lovers, it is often the first thing they do to be able to create new apps.

The video app checks if the device is rooted and then refuses to play the content.  Why does Google do such a limitation?   The Video Rental Market uses a DRM to enforce the rental conditions.  One of the strong assumptions of software based DRM is that it runs in a rather trusted environment.  It is obvious that a rooted device does not fit with the definition of a trusted environment.  For instance, the app has no way to be sure that its system calls are not hijacked, or even if the system calls will act as expected.  Thus, it was obvious that Google had to take this measure.

Nevertheless, this limitation does upset the users who believe that open source means full control of their device.  Unfortunately, Open source and DRM are antagonist concepts.

As we could expect, the cat and mouse race has started.  It seems that a patched version of the app is available.  This version may not check the rooted device and accept to play the movie.  The movie is still protected by the DRM and you need a proper license to access your rented movie.



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