The Netflix password-sharing crackdown hurts single parents like me

Netflix on a TV screen with a remote control pointing at it
The Netflix TV experience is improving (Image credit: Freestocks/Unsplash)

I knew that Netflix would someday get strict about password sharing. It was so easy, we took it for granted. Anybody who knew someone with Netflix essentially had Netflix themselves. But the latest crackdown on passwords isn’t just restrictive against account thieves. It also hurts people with a complicated and changing definition of what it means to be a household, including single parents like me. 

Recently using Netflix, a couple of days ago, I was told that I was now a household. The app gave me some lingo about new restrictions, but these were not specific in any clear way. From what I can gather, a household is the location where your TV sits. The TV part is important because that is how the household takes root in Netflix’s idea of a family tree. 

My household includes my son and I, but not every day. He lives with me half of the time and his mother the other half. My son is on my Netflix family account. From what I can gather, he can keep using that account on his phone and his iPad, no matter where he is watching. It’s the TV that gets him into trouble. 

My kid watches better TV on Netflix than I do

I have two TVs in my house, but he doesn’t have a TV in his bedroom; he doesn’t need one. This is because we share video games. All of our consoles are plugged into the big, 65-inch living room Samsung TV. We both play games and we both want the best TV, so that’s the one we use.

When he saw me mounting my TCL Roku TV in my bedroom, he asked if he could have a TV in his room. I thought about his retreating to his room night after night to play games without me and I said no. Eventually I may want to see him less, then I’ll buy him a TV. For now, I like that we share.

TCL Roku TV on cabinet

That Roku TV has more channels than just Netflix, you know... (Image credit: Roku / TCL)

At his Mom’s house, he has his own TV in his bedroom because his Mom doesn’t play video games and doesn’t want gaming monopolizing her television time. He invites friends over and they play games in his room. He almost never uses his iPad at her home. When he wants to watch TV, he uses his television set.

He watches good TV. I don’t mean a lot of TV, I mean he watches high-quality content. He finished all of Better Call Saul before I did, then pushed me to finish the final season so we could discuss it. I put off watching The Mandalorian season 3, Star Trek: Picard, and tons of great shows just so that I could catch up on a crime drama to discuss with my teenager.

In my hopes and dreams, this is the best I thought TV could be for my family. Great writing, acting, and storytelling that I could discuss with my kid. An entry into a larger discussion of life and society and the way people treat each other.

If Netflix has its way, that's all about to end, and for no reason that I can discern. From what I’ve learned, my kid will have to watch on his iPad or iPhone when he’s not under my Wi-Fi IP umbrella. No more using his TV. He doesn’t like watching the good shows on a small screen, so he’ll just stop watching Netflix, and I’ll just stop paying for the family plan.

I pay for multiple screens who cares where they live?

This makes no sense. I pay for multiple screens. I pay now for the plan that lets my kid watch Netflix at the same time I’m watching Netflix. I didn’t pay for the house to watch Netflix. I didn’t pay for Netflix installation on my TV. I paid for Netflix, and I paid enough so that everybody in my household could use it, whether they were in the house or not. 

My house is a place. I just moved, so it’s not even the same place it was last year. My kid is my kid. He’s not the same kid he was when I first paid Netflix, he’s even better now. 

What does Netflix want? Does it want more money from me, a single Dad trying to give my kid some great shows and movies that we can watch and discuss together? I pay a lot for all of my streaming services, but frankly, it all blurs together. Netflix would be smart to make sure it doesn’t stick out. In this case, sticking out would mean it gets sanded down. 

A blank TV with a Paramount Plus and Showtime logos

Hmm, a new streaming bundle, you don't say? (Image credit: UnSplash)

All told, my streaming service bill is more than $100 per month, and I’m fairly agnostic about how I spend it. There are plenty of worthwhile services. Paramount Plus has amazing shows, even beyond Star Trek. My kid prefers Hulu for most content, but that’s been a Rick and Morty thing.

Netflix, you're hurting the long-time fans

Get over it, Netflix. There’s always been a losing battle

I like Netflix because I feel a connection to the service. I’ve been with Netflix since well before it was the streaming behemoth it is today. Netflix is making a huge mistake alienating longtime subscribers like me (especially in the midst of a writer’s strike in which it is easily cast as the arch-villain). 

I started binge-watching TV shows around the time my son was in utero thanks to Netflix. His mom and I ordered DVD after DVD of the show Alias and we watched them all, quickly. There were two episodes per disc; five seasons with more than twenty episodes each. That’s fifty-some-odd discs flying back and forth between Netflix and me.

Netflix red envelopes

This is what streaming used to look like (Image credit: Shutterstock ID 2292124927)

We didn’t have password-sharing back then. Instead, I ripped the DVDs. I had to be sure that I had the next episode, so when the DVD arrived, I ripped it onto my computer hard drive as a DivX file, then burned it back onto a DVD when it was time to watch. Get over it, Netflix. There’s always been a losing battle.

Today, you don’t even need to press a button to binge a TV show. You just start the first episode and it keeps going. In my day, I had to carefully tear dozens of perforated envelopes and mail each disc on time to keep the episodes coming, otherwise, I had nothing to watch.

I have a nostalgia for the excitement of getting a new Netflix red envelope in the mail the same way I got excited heading to Blockbuster to pick out new weekend movies on a Friday afternoon. My kid gets excited about digging through the streaming archive and finding veins of gold that we can mine together. He could build similar brand loyalty and nostalgia if Netflix doesn’t screw it up and cancel his appreciation before the final season.

Philip Berne
US Mobiles Editor

Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, starting more than 20 years ago at Phil has written for Engadget, The Verge, PC Mag, Digital Trends, Slashgear, TechRadar, AndroidCentral, and was Editor-in-Chief of the sadly-defunct infoSync. Phil holds an entirely useful M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University. He sang in numerous college a cappella groups.

Phil did a stint at Samsung Mobile, leading reviews for the PR team and writing crisis communications until he left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. Phil is certified in Google AI Essentials. He has a High School English teaching license (and years of teaching experience) and is a Red Cross certified Lifeguard. His passion is the democratizing power of mobile technology. Before AI came along he was totally sure the next big thing would be something we wear on our faces.