We’ve always been communal creatures, humans. From the dawn of time, it has been our capacity for partnership—for pooling the shared resources of collective labor, and leveraging them for great leaps forward into the progress-laden smorgasbord of the future—that has marked the great starts and stops of human existence. Agriculture. The industrial revolution. Sharing Debbie’s Netflix password so that everyone can keep up to date on all the hornt-up shit happening on Bridgerton. These are the iron bonds from which the future itself is forged.
And while such simple, glorious acts of inspiring co-existence do, technically, violate the terms of service of the streaming service (and all the others that have followed in its ilk), Netflix, etc. have typically been, well, “cool”—for lack of a better word—with the sharing of people’s passwords among multiple users. Not actively encouraging, mind you, but when the choice has come down to letting some percentage of potential subscriptions fall through its fingers, or deciding to be a big ol’ dick about trying to enforce “one password per household, please,” the companies have erred on the side of non-abundant dickery. That’s been especially welcome during the last 365 days or so, given how important streaming entertainment—and watching streaming entertainment with others—has become for maintaining some meager semblance of our mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now, it sounds like our glorious socialist streaming utopia might finally be seeing its end: THR reports—working off reports from GammaWire—that perfectly legitimate, probably users of the streaming service have begun to see screens that declare “If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching” when trying to log in and watch their Netflix content. Now, at this point, nobody’s actually getting blocked from anything—you can either pull up a prompt that allows the actual owner of the account (as though anyone could own something as beautiful or ephemeral as a Netflix password) to verify you, or you can just hit the ol’ “Verify Later” button to defer that mild chore. But the implication is clear: Netflix knows what you’re up to, and it’s doing a pretty clear version of one of its “How frothingly angry is this going to make people if we pull the trigger on it?” tests. (See also: Any time the company toys around with promos or advertising attached to the actual thing you want to see.)
Because, really: Cracking down on password sharing has never been about the technical side of things. Streamers keep track of that stuff already, and certainly know when one account is, say, being accessed by IPs from halfway across the country. It’s simply a matter of running the calculus of how much shit they’re willing to eat from consumers in exchange for turning some of those freeloaders into paying customers. We’re pretty sure that the current pandemic conditions are likely to amplify that “eat shit” variable mightily—although, to be fair, we’re not scholars in coprophilic mathematics—but it’s also possible our reliance on streaming entertainment might have given the company (and its competitors) enough leverage to pull the trigger on clamping down on this profit-diminishing public good at last.