From Netflix to Spotify: a guide to digital sharing

8 August 2016

The shift to digital entertainment in the past few years has been huge. Six in 10 adults now watch on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom. Meanwhile, music streaming is so popular it’s now a significant factor in deciding the official singles charts.

The problem is, all these subscriptions can add up, especially when you factor in the basic media services you’re likely to already be paying for, such as a TV licence or your BT, Sky, TalkTalk or Virgin Media TV package.


To cut costs, many of us do something a little cheeky; we share our subscription accounts with friends and family. If you don’t do it yourself, chances are you know someone who does. But are you allowed to share accounts? And is it safe to share your passwords? Moneywise has delved into the terms and conditions to find out.

Is sharing your accounts allowed?

With most subscriptions, the answer is: yes, you can share your service. All of the main digital streaming services allow multiple users, and watching or listening on multiple devices – though you often have to pay extra to make this work practically.

But sharing your account with people further than your front door is a different matter. Many providers explicitly say you should not give your account details to anyone outside your household, though there’s very little in each of the companies Ts&Cs to explain what would happen if you were found out. What is clear is that the main account holder is responsible for any use or, indeed, misuse, of the service.

Music streaming service Spotify for example, says users of its Family Service must be at the same address, while Virgin Media’s terms and conditions say it may “restrict your or your family’s use of Virgin TV Anywhere” if it believes someone else is using your sign-in details. Netflix says users must be family members, but the chief executive of Netflix has said that kids at college or university could continue to use their family’s account outside the home. Here’s a provider-by-provider analysis.


Film and TV streaming

Fans of boxset-bingeing rarely wait for the physical DVDs to be released these days with critically acclaimed hits, such as House of Cards and 24, available to stream one after the other on Netflix and Amazon Prime, while NOW TV lets you watch big shows, such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, without signing up to Sky or Virgin. Read on to find out what the rules are on sharing TV and film subscriptions (click to enlarge):

Pay TV

You might not realise it, but if you have BT TV, Sky, TalkTalk, or Virgin, you’ve also got access to streaming channels that you wouldn’t get on regular Freeview TV. Below are the rules on sharing Pay TV subscriptions (click to enlarge):


Anyone who has tried to use someone else’s account will tell you it’s a frustrating experience to share music streaming services, such as Spotify and Google Play Music. With each, it’s not possible to have more than one person listen to music simultaneously, unless one person is in ‘offline’ mode, meaning playlists stop mid-song as someone else takes control on their device. But some offer a ‘family’ subscription allowing multiple accounts connected at the same time on a central user. Here are the rules on sharing music subscriptions (click to enlarge):

Can you share non-subscription perks?

It isn’t just subscriptions to TV, film and music streaming services that people share; people may use customer or staff discounts to buy goods for friends or family. Here’s a rundown on what you can or can’t do:

  • Cinema discounts. Compare The Market’s ‘Meerkat Movies’, enable customers to get two for one cinema tickets every Tuesday and Wednesday. But its terms and conditions state that codes are not to be gifted to any third party.
  • Loyalty discounts. American Express and O2 both allow users to buy advance tickets to concerts and shows, while Barclaycard customers get access to its ‘fee-free Fridays’ for ticket purchases. With these perks, there’s no harm using them to buy tickets for friends or family, though it’s never a good idea to give other people your card details – no matter how much you trust them.
  • Railcard discounts. Railcards usually enable the holder to a third off travel. But while train staff don’t always ask to see railcard photocards, the terms and conditions state: “The Railcard and tickets bought with it are not transferable and must not be given, loaned, or resold to anyone else.”
  • Staff discounts. Many large employers will offer staff benefits, such as discounted phone contracts, while shop workers often get staff discounts in store. If you’re sharing work login details, allowing others to access these benefits could breach your contract. But some of these perks are designed to be for family and friends – just check first.


Is sharing your online password safe?

This is the moment you really need to think twice before handing out your login details. If you give your username, often your email address and password, to a friend or family member – no matter how much you trust them – it’s out of your control.

It’s unlikely they’ll be able to see your card details as these are generally encrypted, but they could make additional purchases or change your subscription package. They may also share your log-in details with further friends and family, making it near impossible to track who has done what.

Plus the risk could even go beyond the account you share. Though we all know it’s best practice to have different passwords for all our digital accounts, the likelihood is there will at the very best be some similarity to others you use. At worst, it’s the same for everything. This opens up the risk of fraud, theft, and locking you out of your own accounts.

Even if the horse has already bolted from this open gate, you can change your passwords on the accounts you’ve shared, locking out anyone outside your household – though bear in mind you may also have to change details for all those other accounts too.