The Utter Stupidity of Netflix’s New Password-Sharing Rules

Want to access your account away from home? Things are about to get tricky.

Streaming service Netflix, which is shown here in a photo illustration, released its new password-sharing rules for the U.S.
The days of normal password-sharing may soon be over.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

With so many unceremonious show cancellations lately, Netflix doesn’t exactly have a lot of subscriber goodwill to spare these days, but the company seems determined to squander it anyway. On Wednesday, the streaming service rolled out new information about its upcoming crackdown on password-sharing.

The short version is that people who don’t live in your household will need to start paying for their own accounts. To verify which devices belong to a particular household, the company says it will require users to connect to the wifi at one central location and watch something once a month. When someone signs in to your account on a device that isn’t associated with your household, you’ll have to verify it with a four-digit code sent to the account owner’s email within 15 minutes of it being sent.

“To ensure uninterrupted access to Netflix, connect to the Wi-Fi at your primary location, open the Netflix app or website, and watch something at least once every 31 days. This creates a trusted device so you can watch Netflix, even when you’re away from your primary location,” the company wrote on its updated Help Center page. They also specify that “Netflix will not automatically charge you if you share your account with someone who doesn’t live with you.”

It’s not entirely clear what will happen to you if you do, though an earlier version of the Help Center page (accessible here via the Wayback Machine) referred to offending accounts being “blocked.” But what if you happen to be traveling and you want to watch something on Netflix outside of your primary location?

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That’s where it gets tricky. As Vulture points out, “The new guidance states ‘If you are the primary account owner (or live with them), you shouldn’t need to verify your device to watch Netflix’ while traveling, then follows it immediately with a paragraph stating that you may have to re-verify said device if you’re away for a longer than seven days.”

What if you happen to be traveling for longer than a week? What if you’re splitting your time between two homes or away at college or, say, an actor on location for a few months filming a new Netflix show? What if you move or change internet service providers? Presumably you’ll be able to re-verify and avoid being blocked, but how often will you have to do so? In the grand scheme of things, having to receive and enter a code every time you want to log into your Netflix account is a relatively minor inconvenience, but it’s reflective of the company’s broader attitude toward its customers. Just five years ago, Netflix tweeted, “Love is sharing a password,” and now that they’ve lost a bunch of subscribers and their purse strings are a little tighter, they’re treating those who remain like they’re naughty children who need to be constantly monitored.

Does Netflix seriously think that those who have been using a friend’s password to access their service are suddenly going to be motivated by this change to purchase their own account rather than simply switch over to a different streaming service that’s less strict about password-sharing? If the reaction on social media is any indication, they should be more worried about retaining the paying customers they already have.

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