Opinion: Netflix Cracking Down on Password Sharing May Not Be as Bad as You Think

It was brought to our attention last night, and you may have seen it in various news posts this morning, that Netflix are trialling a new screen to crack down on password sharing. A twitter user posted a screenshot (shown above) that says:

Start your own Netflix for free today
If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching.

Is this your account?
We’ll send you a verification code.

It then gives the option to confirm it’s your account either via email or by SMS text message (or to leave it for later).

Password sharing can be a huge problem for companies but it’s always been something that Netflix have turned a blind eye towards. Back in 2016, co-founder Reed Hastings was quoted as saying “Password sharing is something you have to learn to live with because there’s so much legitimate password sharing, like you sharing with your spouse, with your kids. So there’s no bright line, and we’re doing fine as is.”

A Netflix spokesperson told The Streamable, who first reported the news, that “This test is designed to help ensure that people using Netflix accounts are authorized to do so.” The Netflix Terms of Use also state that your account “may not be shared with individuals beyond your household” (Section 4.2).

In a sense, I am a ‘password sharer’ – my kids live with me half the time and with their mum the other half. Their mum doesn’t do TV so it makes sense for them to use my Netflix account when they’re at their mum’s and they can keep their watch history without having to use two separate accounts. They live in my household, they just sometimes use it in a different household. Personally I do not think that this is the kind of password sharing they are targeting.

A few times a month I have to remove certain links/posts on my Facebook pages that offer to ‘rent’ a Netflix account for a few months for $5. These people pay for a Netflix account and then sell their login and password to make a hefty profit while allowing others to save a bit of money and not need their own Netflix account – most of the time, from what I have researched, most users can’t watch it as there are too many other users on at the same time. But as these are not legitimate businesses there’s often no recourse and no way to get a refund. This, in my opinion, is the kind of password sharing that Netflix are likely to be cracking down on. This extra layer is only really an issue if you don’t have a way to contact the person whose account you’re using.

But regardless of which type of ‘password sharer’ this test is targeting, there is also a positive side to the story. I suspect that most of us have either firsthand experience of, or know someone who has, had their account ‘hacked’. I say ‘hacked’, but what I actually mean is their account email and password has been leaked somewhere (usually from other websites where they use the same password) and a 3rd party has gained access to their account. Now, a side effect of this new test could be that when Netflix detect this new device/user accessing your account they have to confirm they have access to the account – the genuine account holder will then get an email or text message asking them to authenticate the new user. A genuine user (eg in my scenario with the kids watching it in a different house) will actually know the account owner and be able to get logged in. However if your account details were leaked and you weren’t expecting anyone to log in then you can block them. It would, in essence, be a form of 2-factor authentication – a nice layer of additional security.

So cracking down on password sharing may not be such a bad thing after all. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the test moves on.

About MaFt

Film and TV fan, creator of New On Netflix (UK, USA, Australia and Canada), dad of two amazing children, code geek and passionate about autism.

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