Is it ok to share streaming passwords?

Twenty years ago, you knew someone was “into you” when they gave you a key to their apartment. Fifty years ago it was a ring, or a pin. Today… the real sign of emerging couplehood is, “He gave me his Netflix password.” But is it the same thing?

The issue of password sharing has come up recently because Netflix has been testing a new system. This new system gives people the option to pay a reduced rate to continue to share passwords.

Is it a victimless crime?

Password sharing seems like a victimless crime. Most services don’t allow unlimited sharing; for most people Netflix limits the number of devices that can be activated on one account. Other services are even rougher; Showtime automatically signs you out from their apps every other month or so and requires you to sign back in to keep watching. If broke up with your Showtime-sharing pal and they changed their password, well you’re out of luck.

For the most part, you are actually breaking a contract when you share a password with someone else. The service you pay for is intended for your use, whether in your home or someone else’s, and without you (or someone in your immediate family who normally resides with you) those services shouldn’t be used. Yet, companies like Netflix and HBO don’t seem to mind if parents send their kids off to college with passwords in tow, if lovers whisper passwords between each other, and when pals swap them for any reason.

That doesn’t make it right. It just means that you’re not going to get caught.

Here’s my perspective

I could get all high-handed and pretend that this is a terrible thing and I’m going to judge you for it. But I’m not. However, I’m not stupid enough to say on the internet that I’ve done something like that. That would be pretty darn dumb. All I’m saying is that you have to find your own way. At worst, it’s like speeding down an empty highway or barreling through a stoplight at 3am. There’s no one there to get hurt by it. On the other hand… remember too that Netflix, HBO and others are businesses that exist to make money. They assume a little bit of hanky-panky is going on but if they aren’t making enough money because 11,000 people are sharing the same password, they’re going to find ways to put a stop to it.

So it comes down to your own personal ethics. There’s absolutely no question that you agreed not to share passwords when you clicked on those terms and conditions, the ones you never read. If you think the person you’re sharing with really deserves that password or can’t afford $15 a month, you have to take action as you see fit. But keep in mind that you’re only hurting yourself… if half the Netflix users out there are doing it for free, those who do pay will pay twice as much.

Something for Netflix to consider

I’m willing to bet that Netflix has more password sharing than any other service. Why? Because it’s the most expensive of the mainstream SVOD (non-live) services, and it’s not necessarily the best. People commit these petty crimes, things like password sharing and speeding, when the value of following the rules is lower than the value of breaking them.

Once upon a time, music piracy was rampant. People risked malware and prosecution just to get the latest song for free. You know what stopped the problem, cold? iTunes started charging a reasonable price for downloads. For a dollar, you could get the song you wanted without paying for the whole album. You didn’t have to worry about going through some skeevy peer-based network to get it either. Music piracy disappeared almost instantly.

What’s the lesson here? Maybe if Netflix cut their prices to something more on par with the value they provided, people wouldn’t share passwords. It’s absurd that Netflix offers about the same value as Prime Video, which is essentially free. Just something to think about.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.