What the End of Sharing Streaming Passwords Means For You

Better security, for a start

  • Streaming services are trying to crack down on the growing number of users who share their passwords. 
  •  Netflix officials recently said that 100 million people are using their service without an account of their own. 
  • Streaming passwords are often shared online, and experts say this method is inherently unsafe.
Closeup on a computer screen with the Netflix logo displayed.

Jonas Augustin / Unsplash

If you share the password to a streaming service, you are not alone, but time might be running out for this generous habit, and security experts say that's a good thing. 

According to research from cybersecurity firm 1Password, nearly half of all Gen Zs and a quarter of Millennials have a password to a parent's streaming service. But that era may be drawing to a close with giants like Netflix, AT&T (HBO Max), and Disney enforcing limits on password sharing. 

"It's not that sharing your password is bad; it's more that people share in an unsafe way, which leads to leaks," 1Password co-founder Sara Teare told Lifewire in an email interview. "Our research reveals that 76 percent of families share passwords, often by writing them down somewhere, sharing them in a message, or storing them in a shared spreadsheet."

No More Free Lunch?

It's an open secret that friends and families often keep each other in the loop when it comes to the details of their streaming service accounts, and companies are taking note of all the passwords going around. Netflix officials recently said that 100 million people are using their service without an account of their own and will be taking steps to bring those users into paid plans.

AT&T CEO John Stankey told analysts that the company, which owns HBO, will also try to make password-sharing harder. "We were thoughtful about how we built the product," he said, according to a transcript of the call with analysts. "We were thoughtful about making sure that we give customers enough flexibility, but we don't want to see rampant abuse. And so I'm not going to go into all the details, but there were a lot of things and features built into the product that are consistent with the user agreement, that has terms and conditions of how they can and can't use it. And we've enforced them obviously in a way that I think has been customer-sensitive."

It's not that sharing your password is bad; it's more that people share in an unsafe way, which leads to leaks.

The game may be up for people who share streaming passwords, JD Sherman, the CEO of Dashlane, which makes a password-sharing app, told Lifewire via email. He predicted that soon users will no longer have joint access to various streaming services. 

"Some streaming services have restrictions that only allow account holders to share accounts and passwords with those living in their households, which can make it difficult for certain family members who may have once lived in the home but are now attending an out-of-state school," Sherman said. "Streaming service users may have to get creative if they try to pawn off their account to friends and extended family."

Sharing Isn’t Always Caring

Streaming passwords are often shared online via email or a spreadsheet, and Teare said that the problem is that these methods are inherently unsafe. If your information falls into the wrong hands or an account is involved in a breach, the first thing an attacker looks for is anything resembling a password. 

"With sharing, you might not directly experience that hack, but the person you shared your password with could, putting you at risk—and the risk goes up the wider you share," Teare added. "Once a hacker finds passwords, their next step is to try that password on any potentially valuable accounts—everything from your bank account to your Instagram page. It's a significant risk that many of us don't consider when we're just trying to help a family member stream a show or access the wifi."

According to the 1Password survey, many people consider themselves to be their family's designated 'head of IT,' with 61 percent of parents reporting they are in charge of their household's passwords. Also, 67 percent of respondents reported that they're the best password practices in their family, while just 29 percent thought they were the worst.

Sherman said that any time you give someone access to an account you own, you're taking a risk. However, using a password manager is more secure than sending it to someone in plaintext. 

"You can limit the ability to view the password while still giving access," Sherman said. "If you need to change the password, you don't need to reshare it. What's more annoying than needing to use a shared password and realizing that someone changed it and didn't tell you?"

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