Living in quarantine for the past however many months—how long has it been, anyhow?—I can think of few things worse than what happened to one Lifehacker reader recently. No, they didn’t get coronavirus. That would definitely be the worst-case scenario. They did, however, get locked out of their Netflix.
If that happened to me, I’m not really sure what I’d do to pass the time (Rewatch every Avengers movie on Disney+? Finally sign up for YouTube Premium? Try Hulu?)
I kid, but it can be a bit jarring to lose access to a service you’ve relied on for joy, entertainment, and Nicole Byer’s delightful cackle for however long. Is this some cruel twist of fate, or did Lifehacker reader Peter do something that somehow got him booted out of his Netflix account forever? Let’s explore. He writes:
Hi, I was locked out of Netflix last night on my Panasonic smart TV. Is there an easy solution to stop this happening. I’m convinced it’s my neighbor as they have my dividing wall. I had this problem with them with my internet so I cancelled and was using the hotspot on my Nokia phone for Netflix.
The downside of sharing the keys to your digital kingdom
So, this question started normal, but then got a little strange. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by having an issue with your neighbor and your internet connection. You weren’t sharing it with them, correct? And I hope you haven’t canceled your internet service outright and are using a wifi hotspot to do all of your Netflixing, browsing, or whatever in your home or apartment. That is going to be an incredibly expensive and not very speedy solution to having an internet connection that only you can access.
So, while this question is a little confusing, I picked it for this week’s Tech 911 column because I thought it was a great way to have a little chat about account sharing and security. Let’s get into that, starting with Netflix.
Do you share a Netflix account, Lifehacker reader? Odds are good that you either do right now, have previously, or let someone else leech off your account in some capacity. This is entirely within Netflix’s power to solve, by the way, but they choose not to, so I’m not going to fault anyone who allows their, er, extended family to also be able to access something they’re paying for.
That said, when you give up access to your account, it’s easy to forget who has this information—and there’s no guarantee that they, in turn, haven’t shared it with someone else. If you’re unlucky enough, you’ll find yourself unable to stream movies and videos when you want because too many other people are using the account that you’re paying for.
The solution? Periodic password resets. It’s a little annoying—less so if you use a password manager—but it’s the best way to ensure that you’re in control of your account and your morally ambiguous account-sharing practices.
In your case, to get back into your Netflix account, simply visit this page and reset your password. Easy. Going forward, when you want to boot everyone else out of your account, you have a few options:
- Visit this page and select the “Sign out of all devices” option. That won’t stop someone else from signing back in with your login and password, but odds are good that a friend-of-a-friend using your account probably hasn’t written down your logins. This might be all you need to cut down on the blatant overuse of your Netflix.
- You can use this page to see who has logged into your account recently and what devices they’ve used.
- Finally, you could always change your password at any point. Make sure you leave the “Require all devices to sign in again with new password” option ticked.
Some services you should not share with others
As for the internet bit, I am going to assume that you had some kind of sharing arrangement set up—that, or you had a horribly weak password, or none at all, and that’s caused you issues with your neighbors using your service. Whatever the reason, I can’t stress enough that sharing a connection with your neighbors—unintentionally or purposefully, to save a few bucks—is a bad idea.
Why, you ask? Let’s talk about the obvious scenarios: You’re paying for internet service, let’s say, and your neighbors are paying you a small monthly fee to glom onto your wireless connection. This sounds great on paper until they use a crap-ton of data in one month, push you past your data cap, and now you’re stuck with an unexpected bill. Assuming you have the funds to pay it off—and not everyone will, if budgets are tight—you now have to go collecting. If they’re kind they’ll pay up. If they’re fussy, you’ll have to come to some kind of compromise where you’re paying of the overage (since who truly knows who was responsible for all that data), or you’re stuck with the whole thing.
Want another scenario? Well, what if one your neighbors loves to BitTorrent? A bunch of rights-holders notice, complain to your ISP, and you get your account flagged—or terminated—for something you never did. You can’t just say “It was the neighbors,” because sharing your service invariably violates some part of your terms of service, anyway. And, besides, all that traffic is coming from your IP address; your ISP doesn’t care about the specific devices behind your router that are responsible for it.
Here’s a simple list I came up with.
Probably OK to share with your neighbors
- Your Netflix account
- Your password to your guest wifi network (since you can always disable said network when someone is done using it via your router settings)
- A cup of sugar
Less OK to share with your neighbors
- Your Spotify account (they can get fussy)
- Your favorite tool (you’ll never get it back)
- A wall
Definitely not OK to share with your neighbors
- 24/7 access to your internet connection
- Your innermost secrets and fears
Going forward, you might want to consider setting a date on your calendar—every three months, let’s say—where you change the passwords to your most-susceptible hardware and services. Only you can decide what’s on this list, but I’d recommend exploring your router’s password, your wireless password, any passwords related to streaming accounts you use, and any passwords you use to access your your ISP’s settings, at minimum.
Is this overkill? Absolutely. If you simply give your accounts a unique, strong password, and enable two-factor authentication wherever possible, odds are very low that your neighbors will be able to access any of your digital accounts without you knowing about it—really, without you blatantly permitting it. It’s just not something that I would expect a typical neighbor to be able to do.
I only mention this three-month plan as you’ve expressed some issue you’re having with sharing, so this at least gets you more involved with surveying which of your sites and services are most critical, and getting used to changing their passwords whenever you suspect the slightest issue. Don’t just go and cancel the service, like you seem to have done with your internet; be smarter about your sharing, and know how to flick the kill switch when something seems suspicious.
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