According to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, using someone’s password to access an online service without the authorization of the owner is a crime that can be prosecuted under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The decision came after a July 5 ruling where a former employee at the executive-teach firm Korn Ferry continued to access the company’s candidate database using another employee’s login information. As noted by Fortune, that means that it could potentially “makes millions of people who share passwords for services like Netflix and HBO Go into ‘unwitting federal criminals,’” according to the opinion of Judge Stephen Reinhardt.
While people sharing their streaming service passwords has been a topic within the industry, Netflix and HBO have downplayed the impact. In January at the 2016 International CES, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said that he did not see it as a problem and that the person using someone else’s account eventually ended up getting their own. “We love people sharing Netflix whether they’re two people on a couch or 10 people on a couch,” Hastings told TechCrunch. “That’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.”
Netflix is also designed for sharing within a household since a customer can create up to five different profiles on their account. Per Variety, according to a survey of 1,007 U.S. adults conducted in April by IBM Cloud Video’s Clearleap division, “a little over 4 percent of subscribers said they share their password outside their family circle, while 42 percent say they share it with family members.”
So bottomline, it’s just not ok to use someone’s passwords without their authorization.