Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

Summary: Disturbing news cropped up that Google is looking for rooters and denying them full use of rooted Android devices. Content providers may push Google into full-blown DRM hysteria aimed at rooted Android devices.

SHARE:

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

Topics: Software, Google, Operating Systems

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

158 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Amazon has taken a better approach with Cloud Drive

    They (Google) should distance themselves by making the end-user responsible for his/her own actions.<br><br>Instead they will have to administer to an extra layer of security and enforcement thereof. Very costly.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate

      But Google can't do that if they want to compete in this space, if Google stands by while Apple offers these services then it becomes a differentiator.
      the.nameless.drifter
      • Amazon has and are off to a very good start with their own

        @the.nameless.drifter

        Market Place and Cloud Drive.

        They have no proprietary lock on what they are doing, only they have a head start with excess infrastructure to do so.

        Others will follow suit. Very clever and innovative. Hats off to Amazon.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate
      • Message has been deleted.

        dustypotato
      • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

        @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Fanboy

        I believe what he was saying was differentiator between Apple and Google, not iOS and Android overall and he is correct.
        non-biased
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz
      Makes even more sense now if you want Android, to go with the Nexus S Google Phone? No rooting required. Here's a review:
      http://trial-technology.blogspot.com/2011/05/samsung-nexus-s-blackberry-replacement.html
      litigationtech
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate Indeed but like other companies (Apple) Google has decided to become a moral compass of sort. Unfortunately the end result is going to be as much if not more of a closed garden with Android than iOS...

      Thus far I will give Apple some props for not denying use of the iTunes Store (App, Music, and Movies) to those who jailbreak their iDevices even though they are partially denying use of the iBooks app (with the books, PDFs work fine) with jailbroken iDevices... and there are other book apps so that's not a real issue anyhow, even less for me since I have a NookColor (dual booting the stock NookColor OS and Froyo via an SD card using the cyanogen mod).
      athynz
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate Well the truth is that they don't really have to do that. People are not trying to rip off low quality videos off of handsets. There are way better avenues to get real video from. Content providers cannot afford to not have their content on Android as it is too big. And Google can offer their own services and take over more of the mobile space. I think content providers are too anal about their DRM in places where DRM is not that much of a concern .
      Jimster480
      • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

        @Jimster480
        You need to remember that on wifi they stream "HD" and many devices have HDMI out on them to watch these HD videos on their big screens.
        aiellenon
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate Unfortunately the law would allow Google to be sued for providing the means to circumvent the DRM.
      hayneiii
  • So much for Open

    for all their talk it's only as open as Google wants it to be, which isn't much.<br><br>
    John Zern
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @John Zern

      ish. Openish. Google is only as open as necessary to deliver its product (people who use Google mail and Google Apps and Android phones) to its customers (Advertisers). When there is a conflict or a threat to its ability to deliver, Google will always side on its customers (advertisers) over its products (people who use Google mail).
      Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @John Zern Bait and switch my friend.
      jeremychappell
      • The bait was for phone manufacturers

        @jeremychappell
        The bait was for phone manufacturers, and they still seem to be getting what they want, so I don't see the switch.

        Any user that wanted an open handset needed to buy one that actually was, which only includes a couple of Android phones. Android itself is still open (unless you are talking about Android 3 so far).

        Who cares about DRM'ed content anyway? If I buy something, then I want to be able to use it on whatever device I feel like using it on. That means no DRM. If content is constrained by any DRM that I cannot easily circumvent, I'm not interested in having the content. That doesn't mean I download everything for free off the Internet. I own a lot of CDs, and quite a few DVDs, but I can rip them to a format for whatever device I have or might buy in the future. I want to use that freedom that fair use says I have.
        CFWhitman
    • Actually, this has no bearing on the &quot;openness&quot; of Android

      @John Zern
      This has no bearing on how open Android is; it only shows how open Google's Marketplace is. There is no requirement to use Google's Marketplace with an Android device.

      As far as Android goes, providers that give you an Android that you have to "root" have already made that version of Android much less open than this requirement by content providers does.
      CFWhitman
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      @John Zern: I imagine this was a requirement of the agreement Google signed with the movie studios. Ultimately they hold the cards. They own the movies.
      bradavon
    • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

      Are rooted users going to care?

      They tend to be more technically minded, so know how to get movies on to Android in other ways.
      bradavon
      • exactly.

        @bradavon
        and this is the point. A rooted user won't care if they can't rent DRM protected content. They're most likely downloading everything onto their device themselves. The key thing here is being able to offer content from content providers. I work in the middle of one of the largest global content juggernauts, and the business stakeholders don't understand DRM nor care. They just need boxes checked, and they're arrogant, blinkered, and short-sighted in doing so. The funny thing is one of our content portal partners spent millions implementing lockstream DRM into their offerings, only for us to reject it at the pointy end of the project when it was demoed on their phone, and the due to the presence of a pop-up prompt asking the user for permission to install a certificate, the whole DRM implementation was no longer a 'core requirement' to launching our content on their platform. Everyone was so pissed off you could boil an egg on their heads - we'd been saying this all along, but the fried-out coke-fiend product manager, she was stuck on an infinite feedback loop of her own fried-out-ness, and was too strung out to listen to anyone.

        If Google wants to offer content, then I bet they're dealing with Product Managers and Business Stakeholders just like this woman I mention above. Irrational, strung-out, generally alcoholics banging antidepressants and coke, completely paranoid head cases. These are the sort of people who you'll find all through 'Big Content'.

        Sure, Google has the choice to walk away and keep their platform open. But this will explode all the paranoia inherent in these Big Content juggernauts, and will torpedo all the hard work they've gone to so far in getting contracts signed. Or, Google can give in to some of their draconian demands in the 'courtship' phase, and once the contracts are signed and money flows, 'Big Content' don't really care. The deal's done. The cashflow is rolling. And Google can then use their proven revenue stream + existing Big Content partnership to reassure other Big Content providers to jump on board, and then the power dynamic changes. Big Content now runs the risk of -losing- Google as a revenue stream, and the Content Providers will be fighting to keep Google as a client.

        See? This is why Google has to suck a bit of @#$% in the beginning. Just like our Telco partner, when it finally came to the crunch, the DRM solution we'd insisted so fervently on was binned and we offered the content without all the DRM we initially 'had to' launch with.

        I don't think you tech guys properly understand the kind of fried-out illogical and irrational fear & greed that rules Big Content providers. If you did, you'd understand why Google is doing whatever it can in the courtship phase to get the ink on the paper and then things become a lot more flexible.
        Shinsengumi
  • Why not?

    @Johnny Vegas I have a jailbroken iPhone and I'm able to get content from Apple's iTunes Store with it as well as stream Netflix... Why should Android devices be limited in that fashion? I also have a NookColor that runs Froyo - why should I not be able to access the same content as someone running a stock Galaxy Tab or Motorola Xoom?
    athynz
  • RE: Forget the tethering police, the rooting police are here, led by Google

    @Johnny Vegas No, which is why I didn't say that. I do believe folks should be aware that the benefits of rooting devices is getting narrower.
    JamesKendrick