Netflix has been a lifeline for many over the past year. With shelter-in-place orders across much of the USA (and the rest of the world as well) for the majority of the last year, we’ve all been watching an awful lot of TV, some of us on a “borrowed” subscription.
Sharing Netflix passwords has been a tradition, in fact, ever since the platform launched. Many families have long treated a subscription to the screening service as an unofficially shared cost. But now, with both the virus and lockdowns easing across the globe, Netflix has an unpleasant surprise in store for us – it seems we won’t be allowed to share passwords anymore.
The reason for this? Well, it’s not entirely clear. Those with a favorable opinion of Netflix might point to the fact that smart TVs are among the most hacked devices in American homes. Skeptics could contend that this move is designed to increase Netflix’s profits. In this article, we’ll look at who is right and why it matters.
No more password sharing
First, the facts of the case. The Streamable’s Jason Gurwin was the first to report that, as of last week, users trying to use a Netflix account registered to another household were met with a prompt. “If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching,” the prompt says. Users are then asked to either verify that the account belongs to them – by sharing payment details or receiving a code on the mobile phone registered to the account – or sign up for a 30-day trial.
Though the technical details of this new “feature ” have not been released, it’s assumed that the Netflix app (or webpage) is checking that the IP address of the user logging in roughly corresponds with the address that Netflix holds for them.
If this is the way in which the system works, it could cause more problems than it solves. On one hand, plenty of people have credit cards registered to their family home and not the rental address where they watch Netflix. They could find it impossible to verify this. Secondly, millions of people are already using VPNs to change their IP address in order to get around Netflix’s geo-blocks; so far they have not had to set their VPN client to “Mom’s House,” but they might soon have to.
Whatever the technical details of this new security measure, it’s also come somewhat out of the blue. Though Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings said in 2016 that password sharing was “something you have to learn to live with,” the company has tried various ways of limiting the practice. Bloomberg reported in 2019 that Netflix, HBO, and a group of cable companies had formed a coalition to figure out “consumer-friendly” ways to limit shared passwords. These included text codes and required periodic password changes.
As to the timing of the announcement, analysts are divided. Some see this move as Netflix’s response to increased consumer privacy concerns. The fact that plenty of Netflix subscriptions are shared between parents and children means that, even where users know the importance of strong passwords, they may instead create one that is easy to remember. This is badly out of step with the increased security that many families have put in place to ensure safer online shopping and a more general concern to keep account details strong and secure.
On the other hand, it’s also clear that limiting account sharing is going to lead to many more people signing up for a Netflix account – or a free trial that turns into one. This can only increase the market share of a company whose platform is already huge – in 2020 more than 150 million unique monthly visitors paid a visit to the streamer.
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How it affects you
Ultimately, the change makes little difference to users who do not share their Netflix password and who always watch Netflix at home. For the rest of us, this change might spell real inconvenience if we are not prepared. Firstly, you should make sure that the address that Netflix has on your account is the one you use to watch TV. If it isn’t, you could find account access prevented when Netflix rolls out the block more generally.
If – ahem – you are using someone else’s Netflix account, then the repercussions might be more severe. In order to continue watching, you could be forced to take fairly extreme measures – using a VPN to change your IP address to the location of the account holder, for example.
Whatever you do, though, make sure that you take advantage of this heads up opportunity to set a new password for your Netflix account. With account sharing becoming more limited, there is no excuse to keep your Netflix password the name of the family cat. Our password manager can help with this. Set it to automatically generate a new, unique password every time you need to log into Netflix. Best of all, you don’t need to remember anything.
A final word
Though unwanted, it’s not a big surprise that this limitation on account sharing has arrived – not just due to the increased privacy concerns that have given rise to such “holidays” as Data Protection Day, but also because Netflix is facing more competition than ever before. Whatever the actual reasons behind this recent move, it signals that we’re going to have to get used to increased account scrutiny from now on. Might as well be prepared for it.