Behind every Netflix account are several users: The person who paid for the account; their housemate; their sneaky, morally questionable ex; that one friend who forever messed up the first person’s list of recommended shows. The Netflix bosses have likely always wanted to kick all of those non-paying viewers to the curb, and this year, they’re reportedly closing in on password-sharing.
No official announcement from the streaming platform has been made yet, but after rumblings of a crackdown, Netflix appears to be trying out a new feature. Upon opening Netflix, a limited number of users are now being greeted with a prompt: “If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching.” From there, viewers are asked to enter a code either emailed or texted to the account owner. “The test is designed to help ensure that people using Netflix accounts are authorised to do so,” Netflix said in a statement.
Netflix rules mandate that each household should have their own account, but that isn't often the case. Speaking with Variety, Bank of America Securities Analyst Nat Schindler cited a study that confirmed 26% of adults share an account with someone from another household. This means the company is losing a ton of money from users who would otherwise pay, at minimum, $8.99 a month, but many have complained that password sharers are hardly making a dent in Netflix’s annual revenue. By the end of 2020, the streaming service had 203.7 million subscribers, an increase of 22% from 2019. In the very early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — that is, when we were all watching Tiger King — the company saw its biggest quarterly increase since 2016.
Michael D Smith, a professor of information technology at Carnegie Mellon University, told the New York Times that Netflix might not implement a verification process. At least, not right away. “I’m not convinced this is an all-out assault,” Smith said. “It could be a warning shot over the bow of some pirates.”
However, some experts have pointed out that a two-factor identification process might not be a bad thing. Many websites use similar strategies to prevent hackers from breaking into accounts. Steve Ragan, a researcher at the internet company Akamai, told WIRED that password-sharing often has a butterfly effect: For example, a friend who has your Netflix password might log into your account from another computer, and forget to sign out. They could share your password with a partner, who could share it with a roommate. And although this seems harmless, every added person with access to your account is just one more person who could fall victim to a hack or a data leak.
“Because I shared my password with you, and you got hacked, that criminal now has my password,” Ragan explained. “And if I’ve used that password anywhere else on the internet, the criminal's going to find it, and they’re going to have access to that, too. It spreads. It’s a compounding issue.”
Still, many users are understandably frustrated by the reports: With a growing number of streaming platforms, it makes sense that people are sharing accounts, and the trend clearly hasn’t put Netflix in a precarious financial position. But the good news is, even if the crackdown becomes permanent, it won’t stop you from sharing your account with someone. You’ll just have to send over a verification code or forward an email — which is definitely an inconvenience, but one that could be worth it to keep your account secure. The real victims will be the account owners receiving texts from exes who have secretly been using their Netflix logins for months. On second thought, maybe some people should be locked out.