One of the big draws attracting millions to the Android platform is the air of openness that Google has baked into the OS. Millions of Android device owners have rooted their devices, the first step to customization beyond mere widgets and apps for personalization of the UI. While rooting an Android device is required to install custom ROMs, most owners do it for other reasons, specifically enabling the Wi-Fi tethering built into the Android platform by Google. I've warned you that the tethering police, aka wireless carriers, are coming and looking for you. Now we find the more disturbing news that Google is looking for rooters and denying them full use of rooted Android devices. I fear that content providers are going to push Google into full-blown DRM hysteria aimed at rooted Android devices.
Google recently added movie rentals to the Android Market, which was quickly followed by the proof that it was denying the service to rooted devices. The reasoning behind the bizarre move was that rooted devices make it possible to do things that might bypass the content DRM, so all rooted devices get an error message when attempting to rent a movie from Google. It's disturbing enough that content providers are able to push the DRM agenda down to the handset level, and especially so that Google itself has fallen victim to the fear.
This shutdown of service for rooted phones by Google is the most dramatic clamp-down on rooted phones, but it's not the first. Netflix released an Android app for renting and playing movies on devices but with a huge caveat. The company only released the app for a handful of Android devices, citing the excuse that it had to verify the playback (read: DRM) handling of each and every device on the market before allowing the app on them. Yes, that's right, Netflix must prove that each device running Android respects its DRM system before it allows the app to be installed. Given this level of DRM paranoia, how long will it be before Netflix follows Google's own lead and denies the app and service for rooted Android devices?
So far only video streaming has drawn the attention of the rooting police, but knowing content providers I don't think they will be alone. Google already has a tenuous position with music providers, as demonstrated with its inability to negotiate a deal for selling music in its own Google Music beta service recently launched. We know how paranoid music providers are about all things digital, and once they see the video producers are concerned about rooted Android phones how long before they force Google to take action for music?
Google has already caved to the video folks, don't believe they are immune from intervention from the music folks too. Once you open the door it's hard to close it.
Image credit: Flickr user Sougent Harrop