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Google moves to curtail Android device rooting

If you've 'rooted' your Android device to gain more functionality, Google has some bad news: you're going to be excluded from its recently launched streaming video service over copyright concerns.

'Rooting,' named for the 'root' super-user account on Linux systems, is roughly analogous to the act of 'jailbreaking' on Apple's iOS platform: it allows code to run without Google's permission, accessing low-level system resources to extend the functionality of the device.

While more liberal than the locked-down Apple platform, Android still has some restrictions. By default, apps that create Wi-Fi-to-3G gateways are disallowed, and even something as simple as taking a screenshot is impossible.

By 'rooting' the device, these applications are allowed to run - making it a popular choice amongst the more technically minded of the Android community. Usually, the decision to unlock an Android device in this way carries no real penalty - beyond the possibility of a device wipe being required to hide the evidence before a warranty claim is made.

Sadly, Google appears to be clamping down on the process - and has officially confirmed that rooted devices won't be allowed to play with the film rental service that forms part of the Android 'Honeycomb' 3.1 update.

While there's only one device capable of accessing the service at the moment - the Motorola Xoom - future tablet devices will include the functionality in most countries. Rooted devices, however, will simply receive an error - "Error 49" - should they try to access the service.

"You'll receive this 'Error 49' message if you attempt to play a movie on a rooted device," Google has confirmed in a help article on its Android Market website. "Rooted devices are currently unsupported due to requirements related to copyright protection."

The fear, of course, is that those with super-user access to their handsets will find a way around the digital restrictions management technology that ensures users aren't able to download a film for free, or keep it permanently once the rental period has expired.

For users who want to option of participating in Google's film rental programme, the message is clear: you can choose between the flexibility of a rooted device, or the ability to rent films through the Android Market - but not both.

Users that are absolutely sure that their device has never been rooted - and it's not something which is likely to happen accidentally - are asked to submit a bug report to Google.