Prepare for the great Netflix password-sharing crackdown

Nearly six years ago, on March 10, 2017, the Netflix Twitter account made a very simple claim: “Love is sharing a password.” 

Apparently, there’s been a lot of love going around. More than 100 million people use Netflix passwords from their friends, families, and sometimes even strangers, a figure that Netflix notes in its fourth quarter shareholder letter released on January 19, 2023. It even happens with celebrities—bestselling author and YouTube star John Green revealed on TikTok that he shares his Netflix account with a hacker named Omar.

But account sharing, of course, is bad business for Netflix, and all good love stories must come to an end. Netflix made headlines last year when it announced it was beginning to trial new strategies to curb account sharing on its platform. The company announced in the Q4 shareholder letter that they’re planning to launch new paid sharing features later this financial quarter. Then they updated their FAQ section, and the public noticed.

But what does this change mean for your Netflix account? Is this decision something to worry about? Here’s what you need to know:

The largest change to the platform is that Netflix is redefining which users can share one account. As the first line in the updated Netflix FAQ reads: “A Netflix account is for people who live together in a single household.” The definition for “household” obviously changes depending on who you ask, but Netflix appears to be using a definition based on proximity (more accurately, using “location based information like IP addresses and device IDs,” according to the new FAQ page). If you live in the same location, that counts as one household. If your device is in the correct location, then everything should work as expected, with no changes at all. 

Once you start introducing multiple devices, Wi-Fi networks, and locations, that’s where the new rules will come into play. When someone logs in to Netflix from a device outside of the household, they may be asked for verification, according to their FAQ. The account owner will get an email or text with a code to be input on the device attempting to log in—a slightly altered version of the common two-factor authentication methodologies used by most major websites.

The outcry from the public following the announced changes stems largely from information that has since been removed from the Netflix FAQ page—the original version of the new rules on device sharing had much harsher restrictions. Under those rules, Netflix users had to log into their account from their home network once every 31 days to maintain access. Travelers could request a temporary code to give them access to the site for seven days. 

Netflix has four subscription options in the United States—basic with ads, basic, standard, and premium. The biggest difference between the accounts is how many users can be logged in at once. Both basic plans allow just one user to watch at a time, while the standard and premium plans let two and four viewers watch concurrently, respectively. Regardless of your Netflix plan, you can have different profiles—that’s the screen with the avatars that pops up when you first log in to the site. 

Last year, the company tested features out for users in Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru, allowing standard and premium users to add “subaccounts” and letting users transfer existing profiles to a new account. The subaccounts from the tests in Latin America worked well enough that the functionality will be expanded to more countries with the new password-sharing rules to let old borrowers maintain access to their old profiles, as announced in Netflix’s third-quarter shareholder letter. This did come with an extra charge, however. Adding a secondary location costs a user about $3, depending on the country. 

Netflix’s decision to crack down on password sharing will make it unique among streaming platforms like Hulu, HBO Max, and Disney+. 

The moves represent a departure from just six years ago when Netflix tweeted about love and password sharing. Love, it appears, might be more complex than sharing a password, and Netflix access is going to cost you.