Google Blocks Movie Rentals on Rooted Android Handsets, Protection Gets Bypassed Almost Instantly

Earlier today, Google completely revamped the Android Market, and added movie rentals and an eBook store. Unfortunately, the movie and book stores are currently limited to the United States. However, that’s not the only limitation that Google has put in place. Google is also blocking movie rentals from working on all rooted devices.


As you might expect, this has quite a few developers and users up in arms. One of the biggest selling points of Android is its openness. Of course, Google has shown time and again that it is willing to sacrifice the openness of Android to suit its requirements. However, as far as I can recall, Google has never gone so far as to actively discourage users from rooting their devices.

François Simond, the creator of the extremely popular Voodoo Control Plus application for Samsung devices, voiced his frustration in the official Android forums.

I’m the author of the application on market Voodoo Control Plus, that improve sound and image quality on devices like Google Nexus S and many other phones and tablets.
This application, like many useful ones requires root in order to provide its additional features.
I’m just learning that Google finally decided to blacklist rooted device for their mainstream Google movie on Android market, preventing users to watch the videos they buy or rent.
As many users and developers, I find this restriction unacceptable, restricting users freedom despite Android is supposed to be an open platform.
What is really absurd in this blacklisting is that it’s by design ineffective, for several reasons:
– No reliable “root” or “Superuser” detection can ever be completed
– Because of the ease to modify device Linux kernels, any kind of protection system trying to prevent file copying is ineffective.
If you don’t trust me, I’m sure a few hackers like me will take upon the challenge and prove this “protection” is defective by design in just a few hours.
If this is the solution to the Movie companies security requirement, Google using this technique lie to their business partners.
Google, this move is damageable for everyone.
You made a mistake, that’s okay. Now please fix it.

As correctly predicted by Simond, within hours of the release of the new Android Market, hackers managed to work around Google’s blockade. TeamAndIRC has published a video demonstrating Google movie rentals running on a modified version of Cyanogen 7. Although a proper patch or a crack is yet to be released, from what I understand, TeamAndIRC already has a workable solution.

The technique being used by Google to detect rooted devices is extremely weak, and it’s not surprising that hackers managed to bypass it almost instantly. However, even if they employ a more complicated logic, it will still be bypassed. Blocking rooted handsets cannot be a proper substitute for a proper DRM (Digital Rights Management) scheme. What Google is doing right now is pointless and stupid. It is irritating Android users, highlighting Google’s irreverence towards the openness’ mantra that it loves to chant whenever convenient, and is utterly useless in preventing actual misuse.

(Hat tip: Kalpik)

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Pallab De

Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .