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Students concerned as Netflix tightens grip on password sharing

By Mykhaylo Batashov

Netflix’s new password-sharing policy has Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students reconsidering their use of the streaming platform.

On Feb. 8, Netflix announced modifications to its subscription policy in Canada,  in an effort to reduce password sharing among its users.

The changes include mandating users to set a primary location with the ability to add additional households for $7.99 each per month.

These policies are designed to clamp down on password sharing, as accessing a Netflix account outside of the given “primary location” will be impossible without the additional fee, according to Netflix’s press release. Currently, over 100 million households are sharing accounts, impacting their “ability to invest in great new TV and films,” said Netflix.

“Netflix has, in the recent past , taken increasing steps that are trying to solidify their hold on the [streaming] market,” said third-year chemical engineering student Connor Johnson. He said Netflix’s recent measures were more likely to deter customers like him than create new revenue streams for the company. 

In the first two economic quarters of 2022, Netflix reported a loss of 970,000 subscribers—almost one million—according to USA Today. Other streaming services like Disney Plus and HBO Max, however, are gaining more viewers

The new policy has raised concern among TMU students, especially since many live away from their family homes or use shared Netflix accounts belonging to friends or family. 

Urooj Khan, a second-year business management student, is a fan of shows available on Netflix like Grey’s Anatomy and Bojack Horseman. But he uses his father’s Netflix account, who lives across the world in Saudi Arabia.

“The account is paid for and owned by my father… I’m here in Canada,” said Khan. “I’ve been using this account for years with my family.”

He said the new policy is a bad move on their end, especially because a lot of families use Netflix. “Password sharing isn’t bad in general. As long as someone is paying there shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. 

The new Netflix mandate would render Khan unable to view any of the programming he has grown accustomed to unless he is willing to pay an extra $7.99 in addition to the already high expenses for international students in Canada, he says. 

The consequences for not abiding by Netflix’s new rules, Maura Grossman, a computer science professor at the University of Waterloo, said the company could pursue users who don’t comply.

“It is no different than stealing Internet service that you aren’t entitled to because you haven’t paid for it,” she said in an emailed response to The Eyeopener

However, she said Netflix is more likely to crack down on accounts with many users, as opposed to students who use their family’s account. 

Johnson said he doesn’t think he will be too impacted by the new policy but if he is, he plans to use a VPN to work around the restrictions.

According to Proofpoint, a virtual private network (VPN) “adds security and anonymity to users when they connect to web-based services and sites.” By encrypting and routing your internet traffic through the server of the VPN provider, it makes it harder to track your online activity. Users can, in theory, use a VPN to hide their location while streaming.

“But unless you and your family are using the same VPN, they [Netflix] might be able to catch you,” wrote Grossman.

For Khan, Netflix’s new rules on password sharing won’t deter him from streaming altogether because there are other platforms out there. 

Still, he thinks Netflix’s decision is one that doesn’t centre their users. 

“They’re making more money-focused decisions rather than keeping in mind what their consumers want,” he said.

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