Entertainment Movies

How Netflix’s no-sharing policy negatively impacts the military

As the streaming war rages, Netflix dropped a bombshell, altering its stance on password sharing and demanding strict login rules.
Jessica Evans Avatar
netflix password sharing

Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

As the streaming war rages on, Netflix has dropped a bombshell, altering its stance on password sharing and demanding login via original IP addresses.

For military families, service members deployed, and everyone who uses VPNs to remain safe abroad, this new rule feels less like a policy update and more like friendly fire. Netflix’s new password-sharing policy feels less like a friendly “we’re saving you from identity theft” type update and more like walking into a surprise ambush on a Monday morning before you’ve had your coffee.

Netflix’s maneuver explained

The new Netflix salvo is a response to perceived password-sharing abuse. But in its attempt to stop Uncle Bob, Aunt Sue, and that third cousin twice removed from mooching off your Netflix subscription, the streaming giant also threw a wrench into the plans of our hardworking service members overseas.

As stated in their Q1 2023 Shareholder Letter, the company wants to ensure account security and curtail unwarranted sharing. But this move doesn’t just hit those sharing their login too widely. It directly impacts service members who need to use VPNs to securely access Netflix from overseas.

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is crucial to military cybersecurity. VPNs provide a secure and encrypted connection between the user’s device and the internet. This helps protect sensitive military data and communications from unauthorized access or interception by potential adversaries. By encrypting the data, VPNs make it much more difficult for hackers or other malicious actors to eavesdrop on communications or gather information.

In some cases, personnel may need to access restricted content from home (hello, portable CAC reader). VPNs can allow them to bypass regional restrictions or access content that may be blocked in certain countries. Furthermore, VPNs can also help mask a service member’s true location by rerouting their internet traffic through servers in different regions or countries. This can be beneficial when maintaining operational security or protecting personal privacy is crucial.

With Netflix’s new rule, the tool that secures our military’s online presence is now a barrier to a simple pleasure – watching their favorite shows.

Of course, American service members and families stationed at OCONUS aren’t the only ones who use VPNs. Research shows the use of VPNs is steadily growing. But the difference between most American households and military families is that they don’t have access to their home networks. 

Impacts downrange

In the theater of deployment, entertainment serves as a crucial morale booster. Netflix is more than just an unlimited supply of The Office reruns; it’s a lifeline tethering them to their families and homeland. Often, military personnel find themselves stationed in far-flung locations, from the rugged mountains of Afghanistan to the isolated islands of the Pacific. These remote areas, notorious for limited entertainment choices, transform a simple streaming service like Netflix into a treasured source of comfort and connection. A study published in the Journal of Family Issues highlighted how shared family routines like binging your favorite Netflix show can alleviate separation stress during deployment.

Service members, far from home, often synchronize their Netflix viewing with their families back in the States. A favorite show becomes a shared experience, shrinking the distance between them. Children stay connected with their deployed parents, maintaining a semblance of routine amid the uncertainty. In a blog post, Netflix even acknowledged this vital role, noting how their service “helps military families stay connected.”

Yet, Netflix’s new policy threatens to sever this digital umbilical cord. For personnel stationed in countries where Netflix is unavailable or heavily restricted, a VPN isn’t merely a tool for secure browsing; it’s their key to unlocking this precious piece of home. With the new rule, this key stands invalidated.

The impact reverberates across the entire military community. Deployed personnel lose an essential connection to their families and their culture. Families back home lose a common touchpoint with their loved ones. The stress of deployment is compounded by the loss of a shared routine.

Alternative options are slim

And the alternatives? In many deployment locations, they are sparse at best. As highlighted in a Rand Corporation report, even basic internet access can be a luxury in many remote regions, let alone having options for other streaming services. The same report mentions how challenging it is for deployed personnel to access other forms of entertainment, with logistical constraints often hampering efforts to bring physical media like DVDs.

With this change, Netflix isn’t merely enforcing a new rule but unwittingly contributing to a growing disconnect within military families. And this comes at a time when connectivity has never been more crucial. As the global security landscape evolves, our forces find themselves deployed in increasingly remote or restrictive environments. Now more than ever, they need services like Netflix to bridge the gap between their worlds.

Policies crafted in boardrooms have real-world implications, especially for communities as unique and resilient as ours. Service members and their families deserve solutions tailored to their realities, not hurdles that amplify their challenges. 

Comparative intel

A quick recon on other streaming platforms reveals differing strategies. At this time, no other streaming platform has suggested it will follow in Netflix’s wake. So while Netflix is playing the strict parent enforcing curfew, other streaming platforms seem more like the cool aunt or uncle, offering a bit more flexibility for users on the go.

Hulu’s approach is similar to Netflix’s but focuses on TV shows, including current ones, as well as its original content. Hulu enforces password-sharing rules but doesn’t tie users to their initial IP addresses.

As part of the larger Amazon Prime package, Prime Video also enforces strict password-sharing rules. However, they offer the flexibility of viewing from different IP addresses, much like Hulu.

Disney+ allows password sharing within a household, making it a family-friendly choice. They do not enforce strict IP address restrictions, making the platform more adaptable for users like military personnel who frequently change locations.

HBO Max, a platform popular for its premium content, including HBO classics, DC, and Studio Ghibli, allows up to three simultaneous streams and doesn’t strictly monitor IP changes.

Apple TV+ enforces password-sharing rules via the Apple ID system but does not lock users to specific IP addresses.

Each platform tries to distinguish itself by offering unique content or value-added features. Still, the approach to password sharing and IP address monitoring tends to balance maintaining subscription revenue and providing flexibility to their users.

Potential countermeasures

So, what’s the next move for those affected? Lobbying Netflix for a military-friendly policy and allowing exceptions for VPN usage could be a viable strategy. Netflix has shown some willingness to accommodate military personnel using VPNs from foreign bases. There might be room to negotiate a broader concession for all military personnel, regardless of location.

Simultaneously, exploring other streaming platforms that offer more military-friendly policies could be another option. Each service brings a unique lineup of shows and films, providing variety and, hopefully, less restrictive viewing policies.

Final salute

This isn’t just about watching TV. It’s about the comfort of home, bonding with loved ones across time zones, and maintaining some semblance of normalcy in challenging environments. Multinational corporations like Netflix should consider this when formulating policies. These changes may seem minor in a civilian setting, but in the world of military families, they carry a greater weight.

Military families know a thing or two about resilience and adaptation. But they shouldn’t have to navigate unnecessary obstacles when connecting with their loved ones. It’s high time that Netflix understands how this policy impacts this community. Whether via social media, emails, or old-school letters, they need to raise their voices and make them heard. Who knows? Perhaps with enough pressure, Netflix might even roll out a military-friendly policy. And if not, other streaming platforms seem more than willing to step in where Netflix has stepped back. Because at the end of the day, service members and their families deserve to enjoy their favorite shows, no matter where they are stationed.

A request for comment from Netflix for this article was not returned at time of publication.