It is an understatement to say 2020 has been an unusual year. Thanks to Covid-19 a lot of people have spent entire months cooped up in their houses stuck with their spouses and children and unable to go to work. To preserve their sanity a lot of people turned to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Showmax, iPlayer among many others.
Netflix is easily the chief beneficiary of the pandemic as it has added millions of subscribers more than any of the streaming services as a result. However, the pandemic brought with it another problem. A lot of people saw a massive reduction in their income due to lockdowns made in the wake of the pandemic. A lot of people were forced to prioritise their spending and that usually meant them not having money to pay for Netflix.
And along came Netflix Mod
For such people and a lot others who are cheap and just love free things, Netflix Mod was a godsend. For those not in the know, Netflix Mod is purportedly a modded (modified) Netflix apk file that you can install on your Android Device and be able to watch “free” TV Shows and Movies. Yes, you will not have to pay a cent.
If you are new to all this let me explain like you are five. While the majority of Android apps are free, there are quite a number that require you to pay in order to either download or use them. There are also other ad-supported apps out there that tend to be so riddled with ads as to be unusable unless you pay to have ads removed. These are usually premium apps. A workaround is modifying the apps and there are plenty of sites that offer modded apps as they are known.
Usually the modifying is done by a third party who is not in any way related to the original makers of the app. You will therefore not find any modded app in the official Playstore.
On the surface, Netflix Mod is one such app. Those who push the app claim that this is a modded version of Netflix that allows you to access Netflix’s service without paying anything. All you have to do is download the apk file and sideload it onto your Android device, open it and you will be presented with row upon row of Netflix goodies.
The app is so popular even among Zimbabweans. I have seen it being requested in various TV Show and Tech related WhatsApp and Telegram groups. People actually seem to believe this is indeed a Netflix Mod.
The trouble with mods
As already said, Zimbabweans love cheap and free things which is understandable given the state of our economy which spends inordinate amounts of time in the toilet. For decades we have been experts on using keygens and crackers downloaded from the internet and Mods are just the latest chapter in a long road we have been travelling on.
The trouble with mods is that they break the provenance chain. Not all the people who modify apks can be described as kind-hearted. In fact most of those that do are malevolent actors banking on the popularity of an app to spread their malware. Sideloading mods onto your device is asking for trouble.
Netflix Mod is not even a Netflix Mod
Those who use and love Netflix Mod might be surprised to learn something: Netflix Mod is not even a Netflix Mod at all. To be clear, modified versions of Netflix apks files do exist but these are usually made by people who want to use Netflix on devices that are not officially supported by the streaming giant.
Netflix does server side authentication and registration. This means that even if you tinker with their apk you will still need a valid Netflix account in order to be able to make use of their service. Modifying the apk only changes it on the device on which it is installed and does not change the fact that you will still have to log in on the server-side.
The Netflix Mod app that’s being passed around does not seem to require you to log in to anything but it allows you to watch shows and movies for free. How is it doing that? I did a little bit of digging to solve this mystery. Once you install the app onto your Android device there are clues:
- As you are launching the app, a splash screen of what looks like a bee shows up on your screen for a split second
- While the app definitely allows you to watch Netflix shows it does more than that. It allows you to watch Amazon Prime shows too. In fact it allows you to watch most popular shows no matter what Network they are from!
The mystery of the bee
I know for a fact that Netflix rarely carries shows from say Amazon Prime although they sometimes do joint ventures with Channel 4 and the BBC. Those ventures do not cover all shows nor do they include shows from say The CW, ABC and others. So that is the first oddity right there.
Then there is the bee. The moment I saw that bee, even though it appeared briefly I knew what it was instantly. I know that bee! It is the distinctive logo of an illegal but popular streaming called BeeTV. It is a pirate app and sure enough once I had the latest BeeTV app (for testing purposes only) installed on my device, I was able to confirm the resemblance.
Apart from the Netflix icon used by the app and a few string changes, the Netflix Mod app is just a modded version of the BeeTV apk with the ads functionality removed as part of the modding process. Netflix Mod is actually just the BeeTV app.
So how does it work?
The illegal BeeTV app works by hooking into several services. That familiar poster display you see showing movies and TV shows is courtesy of a service known as TheVDB. These guys provide an API that allows services like BeeTV, Plex, Jellfyfin and Emby to provide that Netflix like feel. Coincidentally, TheTVDB recently revamped their API and will require people who use the new API to pay about $12/year to use it. So expect your Netflix Mod app to crumble soon.
The actual playable files are obtained through a process called scrapping. There are a lot of pirate sites that illegally upload files to file-sharing sites such as Uptobox and share these links onto their sites in pursuit of ad-revenue. Scrappers are not different from Google’s own spiders, they go hunting looking for these links which are then sometimes cached on the BeeTV server.
When you click play onto an episode or movie, the BeeTV apk fetches these links and tests to see which ones are still working. Here is the ironic part, the Netflix Mod apk actually offers a subpar experience! You see, most file sharing sites require a subscription in order for users to be able to download/stream bigger files without buffering. The original BeeTV works around this problem by allowing people to use what are known as Debrid services. Something that the famed Netflix Mod app doesn’t have.
You will notice when you attempt to use the Netflix Mod app that you might be presented with several links to the same movie. The real Netflix never ever does that. Netflix handles all the link stuff behind the scenes. You tap on a movie or TV show and it plays with the quality of your stream depending on your device type and network speed. No fiddling with streams.
Why you shouldn’t use Netflix Mod
If it isn’t clear by now why you shouldn’t let us go through the closing arguments. Chief among the reasons why you shouldn’t ever use the modded Netflix apk is the fact that it’s not even what it claims to be. If someone lies about the App’s origins what else are they lying about? You can rest assured the app comes packed with some nasty goodies meant to fix those gullible enough to take the bait and install the app.
Then there is the fact that the app is plain illegal. There is nothing grey here. This is as black as they come. Apart from the illegal use of Netflix’s logo as an icon there is the buffet of TV shows and movies from various companies that are being illegally offered.
If all this doesn’t deter you here is something that should no matter which direction your moral compass points. The app offers a horrible subpar performance. Illegal as it is you would be better served by using the original non-modded app. Even better still, just use real Netflix.
In my experience, the best route for those who want to use Netflix is to team up with friends/family, get a Netflix Premium account which comes with UHD and allows you to stream from four devices at the same time. This means that it will cost you only about US $4.50 to get Netflix.
“How is this better than not paying?” you still ask. Well, the biggest benefit to using Netflix is the fact most of their video library has been heavily optimised to the extent that you will use much much less data when compared to a pirated file. There is also the fact that Netflix has world-wide peering arrangements with ISPs. Your popular movie might actually be cached at your ISP’s servers when compared to say, downloading it from file sharing sites.
If you are on a capped connection piracy might actually cost you more than just using Netflix. If you are on an unlimited connection you can save bandwidth and get a better experience.