But that was then, and this is now.
The California-based streaming giant is moving to crack down on password sharing — emphasizing that “a Netflix account is for people who live together in a single household,” with people who do not live at the same address likely soon requiring their own accounts — leading to users lamenting the end of an era and recalling stories of love, friendships and breakups made possible by shared passwords.
Sharing a Netflix password used to be “one step closer to ‘I do’,” lamented one Twitter user, while another noted: “netflix really went from ‘love is sharing your password’ to ‘we’re gonna block your access if you dont return to your parents house across the country within 31 days’.”
The latest backlash began after Netflix inadvertently updated its Help Center page on Wednesday for some countries, stating that users will have to connect to Wi-Fi networks at their “primary location” at least once every 31 days to ensure their devices still have access to their account. Devices that are not associated with the account’s primary location may be blocked from Netflix, unless the account owner pays more to add an extra member.
The policy sparked outrage with global users, and Netflix stepped in to say the policy hadn’t been implemented everywhere yet. “For a brief time yesterday, a help center article containing information that is only applicable to Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru, went live in other countries. We have since updated it,” said Netflix spokesperson MoMo Zhou. The company has not given a date for when the change might apply to users in the United States or elsewhere. About 30 million households in the U.S. and Canada use the service.
Nonetheless, the damage seems to be done, with Netflix users around the world arguing that the approach misunderstands what modern households — that often includes long-distance couples or families with children at college, as well as individual users who travel for work or don’t have one stable residence — are like.
“I’ve had Netflix for 13 years, genuinely going to cancel over this. My sister & I share an account, does it really matter that we don’t live together? It’s still 2 people using it either way. Awful,” commented one person.
“This policy comes with an assumption: that there is a commonly understood, universal meaning of “household,” and that software can determine who is and is not a member,” remarked another.
Moving in with my boyfriend to thwart Netflix’s anti password sharing scheme
— Jenna Danyew ❄️ (@Damnyew) February 2, 2023
Others, including gymnastics star Simone Biles, have spoken of the sheer inconvenience of having to re-login to Netflix every 31 days to affirm their primary location and credentials.
Late night talk show hosts in the U.S. have made jokes about the decision, urging Netflix exec’s to change their mind, others have joked that they will need to diarize “Happy Monthly Netflix Log In Day.”
Users have also decried the inconvenience to people who frequently travel for work — a particular concern amid the rise in remote working.
“As somebody who often isn’t home for long periods of time, ease of use was a big deal,” one Reddit user wrote, adding that he plans to cancel his account “and use Netflix for three months a year, because in my specific situation this is too much hassle.”
Others worried about the data privacy implications, with digital rights activist Evan Greer tweeting: “Has anyone done a deep dive on the privacy and security implications of Netflix fingerprinting your home WiFi Network and essentially creating a record of when you are home or not … just to crack down on password sharing?”
The streaming giant has argued that “monetizing unpaid viewing” is essential to its future. “Today’s widespread account sharing (100M+ households) undermines our long term ability to invest in and improve Netflix, as well as build our business,” a letter to investors last month said.
Users however have accused Netflix of hypocrisy, drawing attention to Netflix’s previous messages, which have at times appeared to celebrate, or wink at, password sharing.
At the CES in 2016, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the company “loved” that people share Netflix accounts and described it as “a positive thing, not a negative thing,” according to CNET.
And in 2020, a Twitter user said his brother’s ex-partner “had been stealing our Netflix for the past two months” and named her account “settings” to avoid being found out. “I ain’t even mad. I’m just really disappointed in myself for actually believing that an account named “settings” would legitimately be Netflix settings,” the user said.
Netflix’s official account simply replied: “Respect.”
In 2021, following a pandemic-related boom in demand for streaming services, and amid a veritable explosion of new rival streaming services such as HBOmax, Netflix began testing ways to limit password sharing among some users.
The company has acknowledged that it could face a wave of initial cancellations as a result of cracking down on password sharing. However, citing some success in growing engagement in Latin America following the paid sharing test it rolled out last year, the company said that “as borrower households begin to activate their own stand-alone accounts and extra member accounts are added, we expect to see improved overall revenue.”
And, while the company had a challenging start to 2022, it added 7.7 million new subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2022, beating forecasts. The growth was largely driven by the success of content such as TV series “Wednesday,” an Addams Family spinoff and royal documentary “Harry & Meghan” both hits with global audiences. Netflix now has 231 million paid subscribers worldwide.
Rachel Lerman contributed to this report.