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Netflix’s password sharing crackdown also killed one of my family’s favorite pastimes

An ode to changing other people’s icons on Netflix

A Netflix login screen depicting a default smiling pink avatar, Titus from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, JVN from Queer Eye, a cute cat icon, and Dustin from Stranger Things
’Twas a simpler time...
Image: Netflix via Petrana Radulovic/Polygon
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

This past May, Netflix axed its password sharing policy, limiting accounts to individual households. The move was widely criticized for many practical reasons, but for me, the policy meant the end of one of the most treasured ways I bonded with my sister: aggressively changing our family’s icons without prior approval.

These days, my family is scattered across two continents and four cities. My sister is off in the Netherlands, my brother is in college, and my parents hold the fort in Florida. And in 2022, when we all began to spread out, we were still sharing a Netflix account. Thanks to Netflix’s changes, I got booted off it earlier this year, and now every time I log in to my new account, I am hit with a pang of sadness because I’m not greeted by the little lineup of my family’s icons.

Netflix’s icon selection pulls mostly from its original library, with image options ranging from Squid Game to Stranger Things to The Boss Baby: Back in Business. But the real win is that, if you share an account with more than one person, you can also freely change their icons without any additional input. For years, we all just used our default icons. Then one day I chose chaos.

The Great Icon Swap began during the first summer I had a job and didn’t spend a school break with my family. They were abroad, so in my loneliness, I changed everyone’s icons (except for my dad’s; the unspoken rule of this little game was that his auto-generated, enthusiastically smiling icon was to never be changed). Then later, without acknowledgement, my sister changed the icons again. The war began.

A Netflix login page depicting a default smiley face, Carmelita Spats from A Series of Unfortunate Events, Steve from Stranger Things, Okja, and a cartoon cat. It is on a laptop screen.
The first strike in the battle
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Radulovic
A Netflix login screen depicting a default smiley face, Count Olaf, Mr. Poe, Okja, and a cartoon cat
...and the immediate counterattack
Image: Petrana Radulovic/Polygon

Usually, the changing of icons was a surprise to be found the next time we each logged in. We also tended to skew toward whatever we were watching (or knew the other person was watching). Sometimes, we were just plain mean about it, purposefully picking the most aggravating or weird character; I once made my sister the creepy mask from Money Heist, which freaked her out, so she got revenge on me by making me one of the monstrous Skeksis puppets from Dark Crystal. The Hormone Monster from Big Mouth was an easy universal pick for primed (loving) bullying.

None of my other family members got in on the game, mostly because my parents did not realize this was a thing that could be done (and my little brother was #toocool to indulge). Occasionally, though, my mom would notice when we changed her icon and point it out to us.

A Netflix login screen depicting a default smiling avatar, a cute bunny, a strange puppet, Queen Charlotte, and Penelope Featherington. It is depicted on a TV screen Photo: Petrana Radulovic/Polygon
A text conversation from Mommy reading “Hey I M a cute bunny on Netflix” (except the word bunny is misspelled as buddy, probably because of a typo). The next message is a photo of a TV screen taken at such an angle that no image is visible on it. The following message from a person named Tatiana says “Great pic”
She tried
Image: Petrana Radulovic/Polygon

The final time we changed our icons was last summer. Fresh off the most recent season of The Umbrella Academy, we managed to come to an agreement about which characters most represented our personalities. It helped that all the Hargreeves siblings are kinda shitty in their own way, so no one could really get mad. I resigned myself to the mantle of Luther, the obedient oldest child, while she took on Klaus, the chaotic free spirit (and we gave our too-smart-for-his-age little brother Five).

All was well in the Radulovic Netflix account, until I went to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and got a message that I either needed to register my account as the home base or get kicked off. I accepted my fate. All my years of watching shows are now gone (I think there’s a way to transfer history, but I refuse to do it out of grief); all my icon switch history has been deleted. Now, when my family logs on, they see Luther Hargreeves’ face staring at them with my name beneath, but it is an empty shell, one that has not completed the show she was in the middle of before Netflix evicted her.

A Netflix login screen depicting a default icon, Klaus from The Umbrella Academy, Luther from The Umbrella Academy, a cute bunny, and Five from The Umbrella Academy.
Peep the aforementioned “cute buddy”
Photo: Petrana Radulovic/Polygon

There is an option to pay for password sharing, but asking my parents to do that across three kids seems excessive (and yes, I could pay for it month to month, but I don’t think they know how Venmo works). So I have taken full responsibility with my own account. It is a lonely page with just my icon (and the one my mom accidentally made when I left it logged in on her laptop and she thought all she needed to do to log into her own account was to create one that says “Mommy”). Only I ever change my picture. It is bittersweet.

I miss the chaotic way of bonding with my sister. I miss my mom’s bewildered reactions when we made her icon a cute bunny. I miss this weirdly specific way of interacting via a streaming account, this method of sharing what we were watching and what characters we identified with (or saw in each other). I guess we all leave the nest eventually, but I always hoped that I could stay in the virtual one for a little longer.

A Netflix login screen with a Catra icon and a default smiley face that just says Mommy
I can’t bring myself to delete “Mommy”
Image: Petrana Radulovic/Polygon

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