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Why do you share streaming service passwords?

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It’s episode 4 of Why’d You Push That Button!

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This week on Why’d You Push That Button, we’re talking about a series of buttons. Specifically, the buttons on your keyboard that you have to use to type out the password to your Netflix, Hulu, or HBOGo account and send them to another person.

Do you do that? Do you ever regret it? Do you have to boot ex-boyfriends who keep watching half of the new episode of Game of Thrones before you can get to it, spoiling the latest dragon spectacle? Has your password gotten away from you, whispered down the telephone line until it was in the hands of complete strangers? Are you a password giver or taker, and what does that say about you? Does... anyone actually pay for Netflix?

First we talked to Ashley’s friend from college, MarketWatch personal finance reporter Kari Paul, who shared her password with a romantic partner and learned a hard lesson about trusting boys with any sort of secret. Then we heard from our friend and collaborator, The Verge’s audio engineer Andrew Marino, who has a pretty unique system set up so that he can share passwords in a relationship and avoid most of the unfortunate consequences. Finally we took our questions to an expert: Amber Steel, the product marketing manager for the password management app LastPass. She tried and failed to convince me that I need to download LastPass, but she also gave us some valuable insight into how streaming service passwords have become a fraught and fascinating issue for her company.

Listen to the full podcast and check out the transcription of Amber’s interview below.

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Kaitlyn Tiffany: Why would you use a password manager and why would you use family sharing specifically?

Amber Steel: Sure, so we hear about all these hacks and data breaches in the news all the time and I think a lot of people are realizing the need to do the right things to keep themselves safer online.

That’s where LastPass comes in. It’s a password manager, so what that means is you set up an account. You have a vault where you store all of those logins — and LastPass not only saves it but starts to fill that information and can create new, random passwords for you.

So, this is a responsible way to share a Netflix or an HBOGo password security-wise. Would you say it’s responsible emotionally to share your passwords with people?

I’m sure you’re saying, “If I break up with someone, what happens to my password?”

Yes.

That’s a good question. Recommendation number one is: don’t share passwords with someone you don’t trust. There’s a couple ways you can minimize risk. Make sure the password you’re sharing is random. What I mean by that is don’t use the same password everywhere. Make sure every password is different so someone can’t reuse it. The other thing is with LastPass you can remove someone’s access to something at any time. So if something’s going on and you need to unshare it, you can. And then you can quickly update that password, and LastPass can help you with that process.

One of the people we spoke to for this episode has a system for this. I would love if you, as our expert source, could comment on whether or not this seems effective. When he starts dating a new person, he changes his Netflix password to be something with their name in it, and gives it to them, and then whoever was dating him before can no longer get into his Netflix. It’s just kind of like, when you get to a hotel and they give you the Wi-Fi code. “Welcome to my life, here’s the Netflix password.” Does that seem secure to you?

That’s pretty funny. What I like about that is he’s changing his password. It’s great he’s thinking ahead of, “Hey, this other person shouldn’t have access anymore, I’m now going to change it.” That’s great. And I would assume because he’s changing it that it’s relatively unique. If he’s trusting the people that he’s in a relationship with and that relationship ends and he relatively quickly changes the password, I don’t see a problem with that.

The only potential problem is how strong of a password is it that he’s creating to share. Because it’s one thing for him to give it to his new partner, but it’s another thing if that password is easy for other people to guess and get unauthorized access. So, for example, if his ex-partner knows his system and knows who he’s dating now, then maybe they could easily guess that password. You got to make sure that it’s random enough that you’re not introducing the risk of someone else getting access.

On the other side of this debate, my coworker Ashley says she would never share a password with anyone for any reason. As far as Netflix, it’s kind of sad to go into your account and see a ghost of your ex romantic partner watching the first 20 minutes of Bridget Jones’ Baby. Do you ever hear about that from customers? Like, being sad.

What we actually hear more about is, unfortunately, death. I think that our digital lives have really changed the way that we think about legacy and how things live on, either after a moment has ended or even after a life has ended. I think that that’s a lot more top-of-mind for people. At that level, for sure, I could see that, but what we hear more is either “how do I preserve my digital legacy and pass that on to people that I love?” or “how do I make life easier on my loved ones when I pass on?” Like I said, so much of who we are is now online, so it brings up some interesting questions.

I started this conversation thinking about sharing a Netflix password with a boy, and now I’m thinking about my dad dying and how I’m going to access his Netflix. Okay! Anyway!

It is very heavy, but it’s very important, too.