Chrome's next release will make DRM mandatory

But that may change.

An interesting problem has come to light for Google Chrome users, revolving around the browser’s built-in DRM scheme for accessing content on services such as Netflix. With Chrome 57, the next major Chrome release, Google will disable the plugin settings page chrome://plugins. That means anyone who wants to disable any built-in plugins, including the DRM decryption module called Widevine, can no longer do so.

It’s likely the vast majority of Chrome users just leave the Widevine decryption setting as is. For those who want to disable it, however, it’s an important setting and one that shouldn’t be removed so easily.

As Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing points out, a component like Widevine is not immune to security flaws. However, security issues discovered in DRM schemes are harder to publicize due to the legal restraints put in place to discourage their disclosure. That means security issues can exist for months or years without the public finding out. Because of that, some users want to disable Widevine and do without DRM-laden video streaming services on their PCs.

Chrome 57 is currently being tested in the browser’s dev channel.

Months in the making

Despite the sudden outcry, Google has been quietly planning the end of the plugins page for several months. In May 2016, the Chromium team proposed disabling chrome://plugins. The page was seen as irrelevant since the primary reason for maintaining it was to control Chrome’s built-in Flash player, and controls for Flash are now available in Chrome’s primary settings.

In October, the team decided that Widevine would become enabled for everyone once chrome://plugins disappeared from the browser, according to a comment from a Chromium team member

The impact on you at home: It appears Google may be rethinking its new approach to Widevine in Chrome. Several comments in Chromium’s bug tracker are discussing the issue, noting that the “Internet is not happy” about the loss of control over the decryption module. Nothing has been decided yet, but it looks like Google may decide to enable a settings option to disable Widevine in Chrome.

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Ian Paul

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