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Let’s be realistic. Most people who have or use a video streaming service have either shared someone else’s or shared their password with a friend. It’s common practice, even though it technically violates the guidelines put in place by streaming providers and cable companies that offer online access to content.
Providers are starting to push back against people who violate this condition of use. Password sharing accounts for a lot of lost revenue – if everyone had their own accounts, streaming companies would see a much more substantial profit. They’re tired of people ignoring the rules, and they’d like to see their revenues increase. And thus the crackdown begins.
Lost Revenue for Major Streaming Providers
It used to be that illegal downloading, storage, or streaming of protected content was the main focus of entertainment providers and production companies. Password sharing is now viewed as a larger threat. The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment once positioned themselves as an anti-piracy advocacy group, but their priorities have changed with the times. They’ve joined forces with nearly every major player in streaming and cable to devote their efforts to ending password sharing, because it is currently perceived as the largest threat to the now internet-based entertainment industry.
Parks Associates, an independent data and statistics firm, indicated that the streaming entertainment industry will take a hit of approximately $6.6 billion dollars due to password sharing, and that figure is only projected to substantially increase with the passage of time if password sharing were to be left unchecked.
What Counts as Password Sharing, and How Will They Know?
Streaming providers are having a difficult time determining how to best approach the problem without inadvertently punishing paying subscribers who use their services as they were intended to be used. Part of the appeal of streaming services is their portability. You’re not limited to watching on your TV at home – you can watch what you’d like to watch while you’re running on the treadmill at the gym, when you’re at a hotel for a business trip, or to help you pass the time in a doctor’s office waiting room.
The portability of these services will make it difficult for the platforms to distinguish whether the devices being used or the location from which the service is being accessed relates to a password thief or an account holder on the go.
There is also the issue of legitimate password sharing. If your streaming subscription allows you up to four simultaneous streams, a password needs to be shared. These companies don’t offer such plans for a single individual to watch four different things on four different devices all at one time. They’re made to accommodate families. Couples share with each other and their children, but everyone’s situation is different. It’s hard to make judgement calls regarding who users can and cannot justifiably share their passwords with.
Proposed Solutions to the Problem
Although official announcements for definitive solutions have yet to be made, some solutions currently being floated around involve increased account security. One option is to require thumbprints to access streaming services. The thumbprint of a registered user will always be necessary to access the account, and due biometrics on many modern smartphones, this solution is actually feasible.
A second option is similar to two-factor authentication, where a code will be sent to the account holder’s smartphone or a number registered to the account to dissuade people from outside of the household from easily using someone else’s streaming account.
What Will Happen to Password Sharers?
No streaming service has publicly announced a proposed consequence for violators of the password sharing crackdown that’s looming on the horizon. It’s likely that people caught password sharing will face removal from the streaming site for violating the terms and conditions. It’s unlikely that any sort of fine, fee structure, or charge would be imposed, as people are likely to contest anything that involves money leaving their pockets.
How Will This Affect VPN Use?
Many people use VPNs to unlock content only available in different countries through various streaming providers. Whether or not this will still work highly depends on the way streaming giants decide to approach the crackdown. If they decide to go the route of checking IP addresses to assure that services are only being accessed by recognized devices, that just may mean that bypassing blocks for Netflix and Hulu may no longer be an option for streamers from abroad. This however seems highly unlikely as it would not be possible to restrict a person's IP address when traveling to various wifi hotspots. The most likely way usage will be tracked will be through a unique device ID.
It’s too early to tell what the long term consequences may be, but it’s certainly not a bad idea to determine which streaming services are within your budget if you’re a password sharer who can’t live without Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, HBO Go, Charter, Comcast, or Amazon Prime. If you are using a shared password your days of free streaming may be numbered.