Details about Netflix's clunky, looming password-sharing crackdown

Good luck to everyone not living in the same location with their loved ones all the time

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published February 2, 2023 5:06PM (EST)

Callie Haverda as Leia Forman in "That ‘90s Show." (Patrick Wymore/Netflix)
Callie Haverda as Leia Forman in "That ‘90s Show." (Patrick Wymore/Netflix)

Are you one of the many people using a profile on a friend's Netflix account? Your free access to shows like "Stranger Things," "The Crown" and "That '90s Show" may be numbered.

For months, Netflix users have been warned that the streaming giant was going to be making some changes. Specifically, Netflix has been making noise about password sharing, an extremely common — and according to the service, unprofitable for them — phenomenon where multiple users in different households utilize the same password in order to watch streaming programs. Netflix updated its help center for Chile, Costa Rica and Peru recently and revealed some clues as to how their password crackdown may work in the United States. It's coming for us and soon.

As Yahoo! Finance and others have reported, using the countries where the program has already been implemented as a model, "Netflix accounts will remain shareable but only within one household." Netflix will require users to claim a "primary location" for all accounts. Any device signed into the service will be verified by Netflix as in its primary location (or not) through the use of IP addresses, account activity and device IDs. 

At present, Netflix is priced based on the number of screens an account allows to use the service at once: between one, two or four screens. With the change, all screens must be logged at the same location.

To make sure their device is not blocked by the service, users will need to use their primary location's Wifi, sign in to Netflix at least once every 31 days and watch something. It's not yet clear how long a user must watch a program in order for it to count. As Forbes put it, "The methodology for checking appears to be . . . somewhat cumbersome."

This impending rule brings up a host of issues, including what if a user is traveling, hospitalized, moving short-term, living in a separate household from family or spouses, or simply unable or unwilling to watch Netflix every 31 days? For a college student watching Netflix at school with a family password, for example, Forbes writes, "You would have travel home once a month, bring your laptop or tablet, 'check in' on the Wifi and watch something on Netflix. If instead you're using Netflix on a TV you can't bring with you well, you're out of luck."

If an account is accessed from a location not identified as the primary one, to avoid Netflix being blocked or suspended, account holders can verify the device through a temporary code, which will apparently allow a user to watch Netflix for seven consecutive days. What if you're traveling or not at your primary location for longer than seven days? Yahoo! Finance writes, "It's unclear if you can request multiple temporary codes following the seven-day period."

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TIME reported Netflix announced in a letter to shareholders, sent in January, that the crackdown will go into effect across the globe at the end of March. According to TIME, Netflix believes "over 100 million households worldwide are using shared accounts and that cracking down on password sharing would be a 'big opportunity' for revenue growth."

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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