How to share subscriptions without tears

Many services allow you to share your subscription with family. Here’s how popular sites handle sharing.

We explain the how-tos and who-withs of safely sharing your subscriptions to Netflix, Spotify, YouTube TV, and other services

The digital world is made up of services. Services are available by subscription. Subscriptions are linked to accounts. But not everyone wants to sign up and pay for a bunch of subscriptions, especially if they can borrow a friend’s or relative’s account. Or can they? Let’s dive in to learn about who you can “lend” content to in popular services and on what terms. And what will happen if you try to bend the rules.

How to share your Netflix subscription

You can share your Netflix subscription with family, even with a Basic plan. To do so, you will need to create separate profiles for them in your account — up to five — and select the Kids option as required.

By default, only the password for your account is needed to sign in to any of the profiles; however, you can protect an adult profile (as well as block new-profile creation) with an additional four-digit PIN code to lock out children.

Under the Basic plan, it is not possible to use the service on multiple devices simultaneously, so you will have to take turns. What’s more, you can download movies and shows onto one gadget only. Meanwhile, the Standard and Premium plans let you watch content on two and four screens, respectively, and use the same number of devices for downloading.

According to the terms of use, your password can be transferred only to members of the same household. In practice, however, many users share their Netflix account with out-of-town relatives, friends, colleagues, and more.

Although Netflix management tends to look the other way, every now and then the company makes noises about tightening the screws. To be on the safe side, stick to the rules; and if you do share your account with nonhouseholders, at least keep an ear to the ground.

How to share your Spotify subscription

Spotify offers a Premium Family plan that allows the whole family to use the service. There is no need to share your password, and Spotify even prohibits the practice. Family members join the general subscription by invitation, and each has their own account.

You may share your Spotify subscription with up to six relatives. All must live at the same address, and compared with Netflix, Spotify is more likely to investigate if it suspects foul play. A couple of years ago the company started to clamp down on potential violators, asking for confirmation of address, including precise GPS coordinates. Although the move was eventually abandoned, the user agreement still spells out the requirement to indicate place of residence on Google Maps.

How to share your Amazon Prime subscription

Amazon also lets you share a paid account with family using Amazon Household. As with Spotify, family members join by invitation and each has their own account.

Up to six people can join an Amazon Household. However, only two adults per household may join — the other four must be either teens (13–17) or children (12 and under), whose options are severely limited. For example, teens can make purchases, but adults must approve the order. Children are not allowed to spend money at all, and content for them (books, movies, games, etc.) is chosen by their parents.

That means you can’t share Amazon Prime with your friends. Another restriction is that if you remove an adult from Amazon Household, both of you will have to wait 180 days before being allowed to join another Amazon Household. That gives the company a better shot at managing violators without tracking their location.

How to share your YouTube TV subscription

Google, like many companies, prohibits password sharing. Instead, on YouTube TV, you can create a family group for up to five people to use the service at no additional cost. The option is available to US residents only.

Family groups can be created by people aged 18 or over who are not already members of another family group. What’s more, you log in to YouTube using your Google account, not G Suite. You can share a subscription with up to five household members, who must also have a Google account and not be in any other family groups. Note that they have to be at least 13 years old. For younger children, there is the separate YouTube Kids, which is free to use.

Non-US residents can share a subscription on YouTube Premium, which is more expensive but gives access not only to TV, but also to YouTube Music and YouTube Kids without ads. In some countries — Belarus, Venezuela, Israel, Iceland, Slovenia, South Korea — this option is not available.

All group members must live under the same roof. To make sure that you live together, Google asks for your ZIP code or access to device location when you sign up, and promises to check back every month.

As for simultaneous viewing, you are limited to three devices. Note that if one user watches YouTube TV on a tablet and a television at the same time, that counts as two streams.

How to share Apple subscriptions

Your Apple media library can also be shared with family. A family group can include up to six people of any age (for children under 13 you will first have to create a child Apple ID). However, general subscriptions are not available on devices running iOS 7 or OS X Mavericks (or older versions). Besides, you cannot be in two groups at the same time, and if you suddenly need to move to a new virtual family, Apple allows you to do so only once a year.

You can grant family group members access to your subscriptions and purchases, share your plans and location with them, and help them find lost gadgets. Note the restrictions: Books, music, movies, and TV shows can be downloaded to no more than ten devices, of which five can be computers (this rule does not apply to apps); and second, some content is not available in all countries and regions, so if someone from your family lives abroad, for example, you might not be able to share purchases with them.

In addition, you cannot share with family members individual and student subscriptions, in-app purchases and certain programs, or items that someone in the family group has hidden from the list of purchases. That said, the latter will remain on devices if already downloaded there.

Note also that the organizer of the family group pays for all purchases. To prevent kids from abusing the parental purse strings, Apple lets you set up Ask to Buy to keep them from spending money behind your back. You can, of course, invite adult friends — or anyone else for that matter, but only if you’re feeling very generous. You can also remove anyone you don’t want to pay for from the family group.

How to share games on Steam

You cannot let others into your Steam account, but you can share games. For this, you need to enable Family Library Sharing. Your friends and family will gain access to your collection and be able to play games with their own characters. That is, they can almost totally immerse themselves in the gaming process — almost, because guests are not allowed to purchase downloadable content (additional maps, in-game items, skins, etc.).

The terms of use allow you to share your library with up to five people who have Steam accounts of their own, who will be able to play your games on ten devices you authorize. And they don’t even have to live at the same address.

However, Steam does not recommend sharing your library with strangers: If someone is caught cheating or misusing the service while playing your games, you might be banned or prevented from sharing your collection again.

A few other nuances are worth keeping in mind. First, you cannot partially share your library. It’s all or nothing. Second, games that require activation keys or third-party subscriptions are not subject to the Family Library Sharing rules. Third, a shared game can be played by only one person at a time, with priority given to its owner.

How to share your Hulu subscription

The Hulu video service is available only to US residents. On top of that, you can pay for a subscription only using an American bank card, or through PayPal or Venmo. If you qualify to use the service, you can create up to six profiles for relatives within one account. What’s more, Hulu lets you log in from an unlimited number of devices but watch movies on only two at any one time. If you try to stream from a third screen, the service displays an error message.

If those restrictions don’t suit you, then you might opt for the much more expensive Hulu + Live TV package, which allows you to watch movies from any number of devices simultaneously for an additional fee. True, for some types of content, such as HBO series, there is still a limit (up to five devices at a time). And in any event, the computers and TVs must all be inside the home network, which you will be asked to specify when connecting to the Live TV plan. Hulu makes an exception for up to three mobile gadgets, as long as they “check in” with the home network at least once a month.

The regular Hulu and Live TV plans cover streaming online only, and with ads at that. The service offers the same plans without ads, which allows you to download movies and watch them offline, among other things. These options are more expensive, of course. With such a subscription, you can download up to 25 movies on five devices at a time, but you will have to watch them in 30 days, and some premium content is generally not downloadable.

Sharing the service with family or friends means telling them your username and password — one account is all a subscriber gets — which is another reason not to share your Hulu subscription outside of a controlled group. Any user who connects to the account (except for children, who have special profiles) has access to account settings, although your payment details are hidden.

How not to share accounts

Although many services prohibit password sharing, and others allow it but only with family, people often use the accounts of friends, colleagues, and others. According to a US-based survey by Zebra Insurance, 79% of users have given their password to someone who does not live with them.

That can be a problem. For example, you might get banned from the service for breaking the terms of use. Or a buddy you thought was trustworthy might decide to upgrade your subscription (on your dime). And if you use one password for different services, not only will they be able to watch TV shows, but they’ll also have access to other stuff, perhaps your e-mail or social media messages, for example. Not to mention that a complete stranger might intercept the password during transmission.

Therefore, we strongly discourage sharing your passwords with others. Nor should you ever buy someone else’s password online; it may be stolen, in which case the real owner of the account will likely restore access, leaving you in the lurch. It’s better to use the options provided by the services instead.