This is how we ruined password sharing for you. (Sorry) But it can’t help Netflix’s stock price.

Everybody has a story –  the friend who uses their parent’s account, the roommate who uses their ex’s HBOMax account, the second-cousin twice removed who uses the grandma’s account.  

For some companies, password sharing can add up to serious revenue leakage. In fact, Netflix attributed some of their recent subscriber-growth slump to password sharing.

But most users are in multi-person households, and most users have more than one device, so it can be hard to detect which behavior is “bad” and which is acceptable usage.  And the last thing a streaming service wants to do is send a scathing notice to rule-abiding customers. Services want to focus their attention on the real problem areas – the blatant sharing of passwords.

But how do you identify what is a legitimate use case, and who is acting in bad faith? 

For one streaming service, we created a password sharing-scoring system that identified the probability that an account was being shared. Users who exhibited viewing patterns typical of sharing were ranked on a scale from “totally kosher” to “egregiously bad”, so that the service could identify the worst behavior and address it, while not bothering good customers. 

These were some of the factors that we included in the scoring system:

  • We looked at how many concurrent streams each “user” had (watching two programs on two devices at the same time).  
  • We looked at the distance between IP addresses (if two users are watching in the same house or even in the same zip code, it’s a lot less suspicious than if the account is being used simultaneously in London, Hong Kong, and Brazil.)
  • We look at the content being watched in sequence – if the user is switching devices and IP addresses continuously but slowly watching Ep 1, then 2, then 3, etc, we ranked this as less suspicious than if the user is simultaneously binging two separate series at the same time.

From those factors, this service was able to figure out how to message these users and which accounts to act on, without bothering users who were using the service legitimately. And they could identify when certain Season Releases were driving password sharing.

Helping the streamers crack down on password sharing may seem like it’s spoiling the party for everyone else, but in the streaming wars, every user, every stream, and every penny counts.

Careful analysis of usage patterns can help streamers differentiate between "legitimate" household usage and rampant "egregious" password sharing.

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