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Despite DRM opposition, Chrome for Android to get Google's Widevine

Copy protection for video is spreading to Google's mobile browser.

Google Chrome logo

In a move that paves the way for watching Web-based Netflix videos on an Android device, Google is adding its Widevine digital rights management software to its Chrome browser for Android.

Google engineers on Monday announced their intention to build the DRM feature into Chrome for Android on a mailing list for Blink, the browser engine at the heart of Chrome and its open-source foundation, Chromium. Google acquired Widevine in 2010; Netflix and Blockbuster use the technology for barring unauthorized copying and optimizing online streaming.

DRM in the browser has been a touchy subject. Ian Hickson, for years a central figure in HTML standardization, doesn't like the idea, and nor does the Free Software Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, and other groups. Google and Microsoft pushed on anyway and helped to create a standard called Encrypted Media Extensions that doesn't specify how the DRM works but does say how the browser can hand off decryption to another software module.

Widevine is one such module. Also being added to Chrome for Android are support for the clear-key decryption described in the EME specification and support for the Media Source Extension interface that lets Web pages' JavaScript software take control of video to better enable techniques such as adapting to changing network speeds.

Although DRM on the Web has its detractors, Netflix is using it to move away from browser plug-ins that also are reviled among many browser and Web developers. Shunning DRM altogether could mean that content developers avoid the Web and rely on native applications instead.