STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now that we're past Valentine's Day, we can tell this story about sharing. You know, people try to share things when they love each other, including passwords for their video and music streaming services. But what happens when they break up? NPR's Yuki Noguchi finds out.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: A couple years ago, 20-year-old graphic design student Aleta Dignard-Fung got dumped by her boyfriend.
ALETA DIGNARD-FUNG: It was a pretty bad breakup.
NOGUCHI: Only later did she remember he still had the password to her streaming music account.
DIGNARD-FUNG: You know, part of, like, getting over someone is being able to listen to your jams in the shower and maybe cry or something like that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SORRY")
JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) Is it too late now to say sorry? 'Cause I'm...
DIGNARD-FUNG: I remember I'd just, like, blast my music in the shower, and then it'd change. And it'd start playing Bulgarian folk music because he's Bulgarian.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Bulgarian).
NOGUCHI: They continued battling for control, pushing each other off the shared account.
DIGNARD-FUNG: So I'd hop out of the shower all mad. And I'd switch the song, and then I'd get back in the shower. And then it'd switch again. And I'd hop out of the shower again. And, like, it was just kind of like the Spotify wars. And we'd just spend, like, 10 minutes trying to override each other's songs.
NOGUCHI: Breaking up is hard to do and harder for some who share streaming music and video profiles. The expression Netflix and chill isn't just code for date night. It speaks volumes about how closely relationships entwine with digital life. But on the backside of a breakup, unwinding these entanglements can get messy. Some spurned lovers exact revenge by changing the password just as their ex reaches the climactic season finale.
Either way, it's not just love that's lost. It's also playlists, movie recommendations and passwords. Susan Winter is a relationship coach and author. She says accessing those accounts after a split can trigger sorrow and longing. And getting blocked by an ex has the ring of permanent goodbye.
SUSAN WINTER: Those are the last little pieces to crumble that signify, oh, we really aren't connected anymore.
NOGUCHI: Unless, of course, you remain connected but don't realize it and your ex lurks around incognito.
WINTER: I had a client who was trying desperately to get his ex back. And they shared an account on OpenTable. And even though they were separated, she never changed it. So he would track where she went to see if she was on a date.
NOGUCHI: And sometimes, joint accounts on Netflix or Spotify far outlast the actual relationship. Brenna Kutch is a 34-year-old human resource manager in Portland, Ore. She says merging digital accounts is a sign of commitment, like wearing a boyfriend's sweater.
BRENNA KUTCH: We don't necessarily, like, get married and have kids at 21 anymore. But we do combine all of our accounts and share passwords.
NOGUCHI: A couple years ago, Kutch shared her ex-boyfriend's Netflix password with her now-spouse. She acknowledges it was odd having her new love piggybacking off her ex. But Kutch says breaking up with the old account wasn't easy.
KUTCH: Because I was too lazy to, like, go through, make a spreadsheet, figure out, like, what shows I was watching and which season and episode I was on for each one.
NOGUCHI: So she lingered for months.
KUTCH: And you can't extract your profile. That's got to be a feature that they're coming up with at some point.
NOGUCHI: Netflix says it hasn't. Jill Hill is executive vice president at Magid, a media and entertainment strategy firm. She says more than half of young adults use someone else's streaming video accounts, even people they haven't dated or don't really know.
JILL HILL: This is like the story of the password sharing from the neighbor who got it from the neighbor who gave it to the neighbor.
NOGUCHI: This is familiar territory for Charlotte Russell. Russell works as a barista in Philadelphia and has access to Hulu, Netflix and Spotify all courtesy of other people. One ex-boyfriend let her set up her own profile on his Spotify family plan.
CHARLOTTE RUSSELL: And I'm still on it. And that was, like, two years ago.
NOGUCHI: She even shared it with another man she dated. Russell subsequently dated a woman in New York. They broke up last year, but Russell remains logged into her Netflix and Hulu accounts.
RUSSELL: I think about it sometimes. Like, when is this going to end?
NOGUCHI: Russell sheepishly admits she's saving 30 dollars a month using various borrowed accounts from people she's no longer dating. And it leads to some awkward moments.
RUSSELL: Last time I, like, couldn't log into it, I texted her. And I was like, hey. Like, what's the Hulu password? And she replied with, we're not dating anymore (laughter). But she, like, gave it to me immediately after saying that. So I don't know.
NOGUCHI: Russell says in a strange way, it enables her to maintain connections with the people who've passed through her life. And besides, now yet another friend is using her ex's Hulu password. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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