Farewell, Netflix password sharing. Never again will an ex feel the sting of being locked out of your account

<span>Photograph: agefotostock/Alamy</span>
Photograph: agefotostock/Alamy

I used to watch an unhealthy amount of TV. A minimum of 24 shows per week for the best part of two years, to be precise, when I worked on the Guardian’s TV desk.

As part of the job, I had access to new television series ahead of time and bought subscriptions to all the streaming services. Word soon spread through my friendship groups and family WhatsApps: “Ammar has all the new TV shows.” Passwords soon followed.

Growing up before streaming, when there was typically one telly per household, our viewing habits were common knowledge among those we lived with. My childhood was spent wrestling the remote away from my brother to switch over from Hollyoaks to The Simpsons. As a family, we watched EastEnders together. But now that we so often watch through our laptops and phones, there’s a danger that television becomes an isolated affair, curated through siloed profiles. Oddly, it’s a quirk of the streaming giant Netflix that has allowed us to buck that trend: the ability to share Netflix accounts with people beyond your household. Sharing a password – and, by extension, our viewing habits – with a friend, or family member, or neighbour, has become an unusual form of connection.

Now it looks as though these fleeting bonds are under threat: Netflix has announced it will end sharing passwords across multiple households. No more password-sharing as a small act of trust and intimacy between non-cohabiting couples. No more being able to check whether your girlfriend skipped ahead of the show you’re supposed to be watching together on her night in. An end to the cold blow of changing the password on a shared account to lock your ex out of your viewing habits when things go sour.

Even in its most ephemeral guise, sharing accounts can be weirdly fun. I have lost count of the number of Airbnbs I have checked into around the world where the previous guest is still logged into their Netflix profile, allowing me a glimpse into their nightly viewing of the steamy scenes in Outlander, or their binge-watching of Cake Wars. Sometimes I might add a show of my own into the mix – communicating to them wherever they find themselves now and probably prompting them to quickly change their password.

Related: Netflix crackdown on password sharing to begin in coming months

I have long shared a Netflix account with my dad. Since my mum passed away in 2013, he has been living alone and our shared TV streaming platform has been a small means of me checking in (OK, spying) on him. I would sporadically click on his profile and see that he was watching Mad Men (fun), or The Queen’s Gambit (zeitgeisty), or Naked Attraction (I didn’t want to know). When I started seeing more Bollywood romances pop up, it was a sign that he had met someone.

Without password-sharing, I’ll have to boot my freeloading dad off my account. Our viewing will become more boundaried and private. Without shared TV, we will lose that playful connection. Others will lose this practical shortcut for cutting down on the ballooning cost of keeping up with the latest shows, and won’t get to experience those chance encounters or lingering friendships through forgotten password-lending. I’m still on an ex-boss’s Disney+ account, for instance, and I shall forever be grateful to him for keeping me around.

Private watching keeps our choices personal but TV needn’t be serious. We should celebrate our guilty pleasures and we should be able to share them with each other. Just perhaps not Naked Attraction with our dads.

  • Ammar Kalia is the Guardian’s global music critic. He received the Scott Trust bursary in 2017