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Is Android fragmented by design?

When I wrote about the absence of copyright enforcement on the Android marketplace, I was trying to point out that Google did not have the interests of copyright owners at heart. This attitutde is also apparent in many ways from the absence of desktop sync for Android (and hence the absence of discovery or acquisition of commercial media) to the absence of protection for the app developer.

Moreover, recently Google TV was blocked from all major US TV content and Google faced litigation from copyright holders in print publications and before that for YouTube infringements and before that from newspaper publishers for Google News’ unlicensed reuse of their content.

Therefore it should not come as a surprise the following revelation that Android lacks any common DRM framework.

The hurdle has been the lack of a generic and complete platform security and content protection mechanism available for Android. The same security issues that have led to piracy concerns on the Android platform have made it difficult for us to secure a common Digital Rights Management (DRM) system on these devices.

Setting aside the debate around the value of content protection and DRM, they are requirements we must fulfill in order to obtain content from major studios for our subscribers to enjoy. Although we don’t have a common platform security mechanism and DRM, we are able to work with individual handset manufacturers to add content protection to their devices.

Unfortunately, this is a much slower approach and leads to a fragmented experience on Android, in which some handsets will have access to Netflix and others won’t.

via Netflix blog.

But the absence is not just oversight. DRM is, by its nature, proprietary and, by necessity, “closed”. DRM ultimately includes “secrets” which would always be revealed in open source. If Android is to be open source, then it cannot include a DRM framework.

This leaves the problem of content protection up to the device vendors who must license schemes from various third parties.

The upshot is more fragmentation.

As John Gruber points out,

More and more, I’m convinced that Android isn’t a single platform. It’s a meta-platform upon which handset makers build their own platforms.

In other words, Android fragmentation seems to be not only impossible to rein in, but it may actually be by design. Google is doing nothing to stop the centrifugal force that is building up in its ecosystem. They have neither the means nor the incentives to control the spiraling.