Are Netflix Blocking Users with Rooted/Unlocked Android Devices?

A number of news outlets have posted about the latest Netflix app update on Android with claims that it will block over 25% of all android users from accessing the Netflix app. That’s a lot of people but why would Netflix want to block millions of paying users?

First of all let’s look at the facts. The latest update states that “Version 5.0 only works with devices that are certified by Google and meet all Android requirements.”

For security reasons Android uses two systems called ‘SafetyNet‘ and ‘WideVine‘. SafetyNet is a system to detect if the phone’s software has been modified – this could be by rooting or by low-level malware for example. There are some pretty serious reasons why Google would want to do this – particularly when you think in terms of Android Pay. If a device’s security is potentially compromised then it means your banking/payment details could be accessible by other apps. The normal security in Android phones uses what’s known as a ‘walled garden’ so only the app itself can access it’s data; rooted devices can get around the walled garden and access data from other apps. This is why Android Pay won’t always work on modified devices – it’s a financial security risk that Google don’t want to take. Other app developers can use this SafetyNet test to see if a device has been modified and restrict the app from opening – banking apps for example.

WideVine, on the other hand, is a DRM technology that categorises devices into one of three security levels to allow playback of video content. Netflix have confirmed that:

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.

Some unlocked devices at WideVine level 1, the highest level of security, but are still being shown in the PlayStore that their device is not compatible. It looks like the PlayStore listing uses the SafetyNet rather than the WideVine rating.

So, what is actually happening right now? Are more than a quarter of Android users being blocked from using Netflix? First of all I would hazard a guess that much less than 25% of Android users root/modify their devices. Figures from 2014 claim 27.44% of Android devices are rooted but this is quite old and the way that Android has moved forward since then and the amount of Android owners have increased I think it is safe to say that percentage is much lower.

It is also worth noting that Netflix aren’t blocking users, they’re blocking devices. You can still use your account on other devices, Smart TVs, tablets, computer etc etc. However, right now, users with unlocked devices are still able to run version 5.0.4 of the Netflix app so this change may be getting blown up out of proportion.

Time will tell, however, just how much this will affect Android users – the vast majority will not be affected. Those that do modify their devices, should they be blocked from downloading the app, are more than likely technically adept enough to source and install apps from outside the PlayStore.

Have you been affected by the changes? Let us know in the comments below.

About MaFt

Film and TV fan, creator of New On Netflix (UK, USA, Australia and Canada), dad of two amazing children, code geek and passionate about autism.

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9 thoughts on “Are Netflix Blocking Users with Rooted/Unlocked Android Devices?

  1. When I did the latest update on my unrooted hudl2 I was getting an error message when I tried to open Netflix. I was directed to the Netflix website to download a APK direct from there that works fine

    1. Out of interest what make/model are they? I’m not saying that yours are, but I know there are a lot of the cheap Chinese android tablets that aren’t “certified by Google” – i.e. don’t have PlayStore on them officially but the manufacturers add PlayStore anyway.

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