Netflix has caused panic among its users over the last few weeks, having announced a crackdown on password sharing.
How and when this will be implemented remained largely unclear, until the tech giant briefly posted key details on its website this week. Eagle-eyed users spotted details on the US and UK help pages, although these were swiftly removed. They suggest that users will have to connect to Wi-Fi at their primary location, open the Netflix app or website and watch something at least once every 31 days.
This could cause issues for users who no longer live with, or even nearby, the primary account holder.
Each Netflix account is linked to a single ‘Netflix Household’ – the home and Wi-Fi network of the bill payer – and anyone who lives there can log in to it using any device. But the new guidelines say that the account must be logged into by a device in the Netflix Household every 31 days to turn it into a ‘trusted device’.
A trusted device can be used to watch Netflix even when away from the home Wi-Fi network. Devices which log in to the account away from the Netflix Household and have not done so in the past month ‘may be blocked from watching Netflix’. If you go travelling, you can request a four-digit code to be sent to the bill payer, and when that is entered you will be able to continue watching.
These details of how password policing will work were meant to just be guidelines for trials in the three South American countries. However, they were accidentally shared publicly to other countries on Wednesday. They have now been deleted from the FAQ pages of countries other than Chile, Peru and Costa Rica.
The details now listed on the Help Centre pages for other countries, including the UK, say the verification process is slightly different. They say that if an account is signed into or used persistently outside of the primary household, the account holder will be asked to ‘verify’ the device it was used on.
To do this, Netflix will send a link by email or text, which opens a web page showing a four-digit code. This code needs to be entered using the new device within 15 minutes before it expires, and the other user is left locked out of the account.
Netflix can tell when a new device is using an account by its IP address and device ID, as well as by what the user is watching.
The streaming giant says that it will not ‘automatically charge’ the account holder if their account is logged into, outside their household.
It adds that verification will only be requested when the account is used away from the Netflix Household for an ‘extended period of time’.
This means that subscribers should not need to worry if they go on a short holiday, but they will need to request to change their Netflix Household if they move house.
Netflix currently has different price plans which each allow a different number of devices connected to the home internet to use a single account. But, last month, a Netflix earnings report revealed plans to roll out a ‘paid sharing’ option. Each account already comes with five ‘profiles’, but these are solely for use by one or more devices in the same Netflix Household. With the new option, one account will also be able to be used on one or more devices not connected to the Wi-Fi network at this household.
This will involve an additional cost each month on top of the subscription fee. The option has already been tested in select Central and South American countries, and will be rolled out towards the end of March.
The extra guidelines for Netflix subscribers in Chile also reveal details about adding an ‘extra member’ to an account. ‘An extra member will have their own account and password, but their membership will be paid for by the person who invited them to join,’ they say. Extra members can only have one profile and can only watch on one device at a time.
Netflix currently allows for up to five profiles on a single account, where each has its own algorithmically powered viewing recommendations, viewing history and settings.
For years the Netflix terms of service has said users of an account must live in the same household, but it has not taken any solid action until 2023.
According to the Intellectual Property Office, password sharing on Netflix and other video streaming platforms breaks copyright law and is therefore illegal. However, it is down to the companies themselves to take action through the courts if required – and there is no suggestion yet that Netflix would attempt to do so.