Rooted phones may not be able to download some apps from the Google Play Store
Rooting your Android phone can be great. Gaining direct access to the entire system enables some amazing features, such as device automation, improved file access and manipulation, and the ability to alter the behavior of your phone at the component level. However, it does present some risks - the open system is more prone to malicious software, and rooting has a bad name in some circles for its ability to pirate or manipulate paid software and features. It’s this second reason that may have spurred Google to hide certain apps from the Google Play Store for rooted devices.
An update to the Play Console now allows app developers to restrict access to their app based on whether or not a device passes SafetyNet Attestation integrity testing. SafetyNet Attestation essentially checks certain aspects of an Android phone and can prevent an app from running if it fails. Rooted devices or phones running custom ROMs will fail the test. The SafetyNet API is used by both Android Pay and Pokemon Go to prevent rooted devices from running these apps. Pokemon Go’s gameplay is heavily dependent on location tracking, so the app uses the API to prevent players from tricking their device’s GPS.
While the SafetyNet API is embedded in some apps to prevent them from working on rooted devices, the Google Play Store is merely setting a flag for the app in the Google Play Store. This difference is important; while the app won’t show up in the Play Store, it can still be side-loaded or installed via the appropriate APK. Once installed, the app should still work, even on a rooted device. We’ve already seen this used with the Netflix app. Some rooted users noted that the app disappeared from the Play Store, but by downloading the APK from another source, they were able to install and run Netflix without a hiccup.
It’s interesting that Google is seemingly cracking down on rooters and modders. Android has long been a haven for tinkerers in the mobile phone space; users tried of the locked down nature of Apple’s iOS usually find a home on Android, where rooting, modding, and custom software have a large and thriving community behind them. Google may be taking a harsher stance on modders, which is worrying. However, despite these renewed efforts, modders are still managing to stay a step ahead of the tech giant and likely will for the foreseeable future.