Sharing your streaming account password is a personal choice. That said, it violates many streaming platforms’ terms of service – and you could be banned from the site for doing it.
What is password sharing?
People have shared their passwords for various subscription business model accounts, such as music, video, and sports streaming services (and even Uber and Amazon).
Surprisingly, streaming services were used to encourage subscribers to share their passwords.
“If someone shared their account with someone else, they hoped that over time that person would love Netflix so much that they would get their own account,” says streaming media expert Dan Rayburn.
That’s exactly what’s happened in the streaming world. According to a March 2022 Leichtman Research Group survey, about 64% of respondents said they paid for and used their own bills, while about 33% said their accounts were “used in more than one household”.
Now companies are changing their stance and trying to end password sharing. For example, Netflix recently decided to increase restrictions on password sharing in an effort to boost revenue.
Is sharing passwords illegal?
When it comes to legality, password sharing is a gray area.
Some have pointed to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 1986 cybersecurity law designed to deter hacking, as it applies to password sharing. And a US appeals court ruled in 2016 that password sharing was eligible, making it a federal crime.
But there is no precedent of anyone taking a case to court on the issue.
“I don’t think it was ever taken to court,” said Michael D. Smith, a professor of information technology and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
While the laws surrounding it may not be concrete, Rayburn says sharing passwords is against the terms of service.
“Virtually every piece of software you use on your computer says something about the fact that there are certain things you can do with the software and things you can’t do,” he says.
Violating these terms of service may have its own consequences: the site may terminate your services. Each streaming platform has its own terms of service and each sets its own consequences for breaking them.
Account sharing issues
The obvious reason people share their accounts is to make streaming cheaper. While many consumers have turned to streaming to cut cable bills, the cost of streaming services can really add up.
That rise in costs has caused some users to change their mind about having their own passwords for each streaming service they use. Sharing one account within a family can make it cheaper, but can also be against the terms of service if someone shares outside of that household.
Check out these four reasons why sharing your password can be a problem:
1. It can make your streaming less private
If you’re concerned about your online privacy, sharing passwords to access your Amazon Prime, Uber, or streaming services accounts can give people access to your data. And that data includes things like your usage history and payment information. And if it’s a password you use for different accounts, it could put those at risk as well.
2. It may end up costing more
For Netflix subscribers, password sharing may come at a cost of its own, as the company has been testing a way to add additional members and share them outside of a subscriber’s household at an additional cost. While it has not yet been tested in the US, Netflix has rolled out the program in Chile, Costa Rica and Peru.
3. It can interfere with your service
Many streaming services limit the number of screens that can stream content at the same time. So if you share your password with other people, you might end up with a blank screen, meaning you won’t be able to use the service you’re actually paying for.
4. There is an ethical question at hand
When it comes to password sharing, Smith believes there’s an ethical issue around “taking” content.
“It’s wrong to take something from someone who hasn’t given you permission to take that thing. In this case, Netflix has been very clear that these services are only for people in your household,” he says.