5 On Your Side

The problem with sharing online streaming passwords

Posted March 11, 2015

For many people, online streaming is the only way to watch a TV show or a movie. According to Consumer Reports, estimates show that more than half of American households have a subscription service such as Netflix or Hulu.

It seems so easy - put in your password and get countless video streams on a service like Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO Go, or Watch ESPN. But a survey conducted by Consumer Reports revealed that 46 percent of American adults with streaming media accounts admitted to sharing passwords with people living outside of their home.

Many of the terms of agreement seem ambiguous, and companies do not crack down on offenders. While it is technically OK to hand out your password, you could get a surprise like the Maranos did when the show they wanted to watch was blocked.

Barbara Marano said she and her husband tried watching Netflix and it wouldn’t connect. They thought maybe their daughter was watching in another room.

"That should have been OK, except my daughter said, 'Oh, I bet so-and-so is watching,' Marano said. “I'm like, how would so-and-so be watching?’ She said, 'I gave her my password.'"

Netflix, like several other online streaming services, limits simultaneous viewing to between one to four streams, depending on the subscription. Amazon Prime allows two at a time, and HBO Go allows three.

Consumer Reports reached out to all of the companies cited in the report.

Cliff Edwards, a Netflix spokesman, said that a crackdown is "honestly not even a conversation in the company right now."

A statement from HBO Go said, "The HBO Go service is meant to be used by the members of a household with an HBO subscription. We do not encourage password sharing outside of that household, and we limit viewing to three concurrent streams."

A representative from ESPN said, "I cannot share the exact limit number of simultaneous streams, but it is enough to allow each household to enjoy the benefits of access across multiple devices."

Consumer Reports also reached out to Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime, but they did not respond.


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  • Angie Cox Mar 13, 2015
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    I do not like Netflix!

  • Andy Hairston Mar 12, 2015
    user avatar

    The biggest problem is that it's a violation of the terms of use for most of these services. If they did decide to crack down, they could cancel the account without a refund.

    Netflix streaming is less than $10/month. Why share passwords?