For years, the cliche has been that Netflix has hundreds of millions of users but only thousands of passwords passed between them. And by and large, the company seemed okay with that. “Password sharing is something you have to learn to live with,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in 2016, “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.”
Well, scratch that, because GammaWire recently noticed that some viewers attempting to use someone else’s account were being met with a screen that reads, “If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching.” At this point, they could either verify their identity with a texted or emailed code to the account owner, or choose “verify later,” which gave them a bit more time before being asked again.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, this is indeed a new feature that Netflix is trying out. “This test is designed to help ensure that people using Netflix accounts are authorized to do so – both by the member who owns the account and under our Terms of Service,” said a Netflix spokesperson.
Now, I’m sure this isn’t a problem for most of you, because surely no one would ever use a Netflix password if they weren’t legitimately paying for an account, but for some people, this could be an issue.
Of course, it’s not like Netflix needs this help. Earlier this year it passed the 200 million subscriber mark, so clearly password sharing isn’t hurting it that much.
Still, now that the technology has gotten to this point, we can probably expect more of this kind of thing from Netflix and its competitors. As recently as 2019, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey was saying he didn’t think HBO Max would go after password sharing, but warned that this could change: “I do believe the technology’s starting to get better to start paying attention to extensive abuse – when we see 14 locations logged into HBO on a Sunday night with 16 different streams going, we’re aware of those things. As growth taps out, I think the industry will come up with a method that’s a bit more rigorous.”
For those smaller services, I actually wonder if cracking down on password sharing might hurt them. There could be people who would never watch their content if they had to pay for it, but once they get hooked might decide it’s worth it. We’ll see how it shakes down as the streaming wars continue.