from the priorities-priorities dept
Back when Netflix was a pesky upstart trying to claw subscribers away from entrenched cable providers, the company had a pretty lax approach to users that shared streaming passwords. At one point CEO Reed Hastings went so far as to say he “loved” password sharing, seeing it as akin to free advertising. The idea was that as kids or friends got on more stable footing (left home to job hunt, whatever), they’d inevitably get hooked on the service and purchase their own subscription. Execs at HBO (at least before the AT&T acquisition) have stated it doesn’t really hurt these companies’ bottom lines in part because, much like with traditional piracy, there’s no guarantee these users would actually subscribe if they lost access.
In the last year or two, as Netflix’s dominance grew, the company’s position on the subject unsurprisingly started to toughen. And last week, the company began testing a system that would nudge password sharing subscribers to get their own account:
“…some viewers attempting to use somebody else’s account are now being stopped by a screen that says, “If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching.”
Netflix confirmed the new feature, which is getting a limited rollout at this time. “This test is designed to help ensure that people using Netflix accounts are authorized to do so,” a Netflix spokesperson said. In order to continue watching, the viewer is given the option of either verifying their identity (with a texted or emailed code to the account’s owner), or opting to “verify later,” which gives the viewer an unspecified additional amount of time to continue watching and later confirm they are a valid account user.
Granted there’s a little tone deafness here, given the fact we’re in the middle of an historic health and economic crisis. But the shift was likely inevitable. A lot of Netflix’s initial, more consumer-friendly attitudes (like oh, the company’s support for net neutrality) have mysteriously disappeared as Netflix has shifted from pesky upstart to dominant player (Netflix had 203.67 million subscribers as of the end of 2020).
That said there is one plus side to the shift. As these users are shoved toward creating their own accounts, those users are being nudged to sign up for entirely new accounts with two-factor authentication:
“There seems to be a misunderstanding that sharing passwords with known individuals is not dangerous,? says Jake Moore, a cybersecurity specialist at security firm ESET. ?The truth is that we shouldn?t be sharing passwords, and adding multi-factor authentication will help this process remain better protected.?
Some of Netflix’s positional shift is courtesy of the traditional cable sector. Cable companies like Charter Spectrum (and its CEO Tom Rutledge) have spent years lamenting password sharing as the worst sort of villainy and a form of piracy (it’s very much not). Rutledge and his fellow band of password sharing pearl-clutchers have been cooking up an organization whose entire function is to apply pressure on streaming providers who’ve been lax on password sharing, since that is, as everybody knows, one of the very top issues facing America today.