Why It Just Got Harder To Share Your Online Subscriptions

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

It’s the golden rule of kindergarten: share. Share your toys, divide your crayons, split time on the swings. In most cases, the sharing we practice in elementary classrooms serves us well in life. You might have signed up to share an online subscription to save a few dollars each month, but the golden age of what’s-mine-is-yours could be in its twilight years. Most companies like Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix have given customers free reign in who they share their password — and perks — with. But that’s starting to change, little by little.

Sharing subscriptions has been a fact of life since the model became popular. People got concerned when Netflix’s separate profiles popped up in 2013, but it was seemingly the company’s embrace of the fact that at least 10 million people used the video streaming service on someone else’s tab, using log-in credentials for another paying customer. In its wording for terms and conditions, Netflix allows a paying customer to share their information with five other “unique authorized Netflix ready devices.” That could be your laptop, tablet, and phone, but more than likely it means giving it out to five other people and splitting the tab — or straight-up leeching the service.

Sharing is caring…right?

A survey conducted at the end of 2014 by Consumer Reports found that 46% of American adults who use streaming services admitted to sharing login information with people living outside their homes. That could include letting their kids use the service at college or sharing it with other family members and friends. Anecdotally, some people feel sketchy about using log-in credentials from someone they don’t know that well (Consumer Reports tells of a family using the log-in of a daughter’s ex-boyfriend), but they don’t feel all that bad about the implications for the company.

But the tide might be changing, and companies might soon stop looking the other way when their services are pimped out to anyone with a second cousin willing to share his email and password. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been notoriously unconcerned in his comments about password sharing, but according to Business Insider that’s taken on a little more of a bite lately. HBO Go, which allows account holders to stream three different things concurrently, is also looking at the situation “very carefully.”

In that same Business Insider article, it was discovered that about 10% of households in the United States using streaming services like Netflix, HBO Go, and Amazon Prime Instant Video don’t pay for the service — they borrow it from someone else not living in the house. Though only about 5% of Amazon Prime Instant Video users get the service from someone else, Amazon is now the first company to make a step toward doing something about it.

Sharing perks, and credit card information

Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

At the beginning of August, Consumerist reported that Amazon made a change to their “Amazon Household” policy, which affects the sharing perks of Amazon Prime memberships. The change happened with almost zero fanfare, and Consumerist only realized the change after a reader tipped them off. According to the changed policy, “Eligible Prime benefits can only be shared between the two adults in a household.” The perks used to be eligible to be shared with four separate account holders, but now free two-day shipping, Prime Instant Video, and the Kindle Lending Library can only be shared among two adults. (If there are young children in the home, you can have up to four child profiles, but those are only good for separating content in the Family Library.)

Another big change, Consumerist notes, is account holders sharing their information must be comfortable with all debit and credit card access. This is really how Amazon is ensuring you won’t give out that password too far and wide. When you add an account holder, they have access to all the payment options you have stored on your account — and you have access to all of their card information, too.

“In order to share content, Prime benefits, and Amazon Mom benefits, both adult account holders need to authorize each other to use credit and debit cards associated with their Amazon accounts for purchases on Amazon. This will not affect either of their current payment settings, but each adult will be able to copy the credit and debit cards of the other account to his or her Amazon account and use them for purchases with Amazon.”

Not a police state — yet

Even if Amazon doesn’t spend too much time policing their new rules, they’re creating an atmosphere of self-governance. You’re probably not going to share your credit card information with your daughter’s ex-boyfriend, so you’re probably not going to keep him on your account anymore, either. Time notes that people who are already sharing accounts are grandfathered in and can continue sharing — at least until the policy is renewed. (Amazon, in its infinite wisdom, has that happen each year when you pay $99 again.)

For now, it doesn’t look like Amazon or anyone else is going to spend too much time hunting down policy violators — even those who pass around the information for one account but use different shipping addresses. But this change means that companies are taking a serious look at who’s getting the perks they offer — and they know not everyone is paying up. As the market gets more competitive for streaming services of all kinds, it’s likely that companies will try to recoup some of those losses by requiring the freeloaders to sign up on their own. Up until now, it hasn’t seemed like it matters too much, but that’s because companies like Netflix have turned a profit in spite of the loafers. The minute that changes, it’ll be game over.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS
Want more great content like this? Sign up here to receive the best of Cheat Sheet delivered daily. No spam; just tailored content straight to your inbox.