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Will Netflix’s Password Crackdown Kill the Joyful Communion of Account-Sharing?

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I don’t mean to brag, but I have my own Netflix account. This shouldn’t be surprising for a 27-year-old media employee, but to be honest, it’s a recent development; for years, I existed happily on my mom’s account, skewing her algorithm away from the French crime shows she favors and toward LGBTQ+ rom coms. I still use one of my best friends’s family Hulu account, though (so frequently that she reluctantly made me my own profile), and I’m one of dozens of people hiding out on one Brooklyn writer’s mom’s HBO Go account like emperor penguins clinging to an ice floe.

I felt pressured to create my own Netflix account when I read that the streaming service would crack down on password-sharing. Suddenly, I knew my time in the comforting womb of my mom’s account was coming to a close, and I opted to expel myself before she could drag me out. But the experience got me thinking: How many other people were out there, sharing Netflix accounts with their moms and their exes and their exes’ moms in a twisted, deeply online version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

While using the Netflix account of someone you don’t know might sound like a recipe for a late-capitalist horror story, it can actually provide a strange sense of connection to a person you’d never otherwise interact with—and the weirder the connection, the better. “I’m using the Netflix login info of a guy my mom went on three Tinder dates with in 2017,” admits Ellie, a 25-year-old from Chicago, explaining, “If we get accidentally signed out, she just takes a picture of the TV error page, texts him the photo, and he responds with the email and password every time. I think he thinks it’s funny? It’s been four years of this, and I don’t think they talk about anything else.”

In some cases, shared Netflix accounts provide less of an arbitrary attachment than a link to the past. Laura, 25, from Solvang, California, uses a Netflix account that belongs to one of her high school teachers, saying, “I’ve probably had it since around 2013, when I graduated high school.” Considering that almost everything about a person can change over the course of eight years, from their job to partner to friend group to home city, it’s strangely comforting to think of a long-ago Netflix login as a fixed point of connection.

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