Tracking my Netflix hacker

Note: This column was first published in the Dec. 5, 2018, edition of The Kentucky Standard

Help! A teen-aged Dutch girl stole my Netflix password.

At least, I think that’s right. I’m not 100-percent sure about the age and gender, which is based on my wife’s analysis of the digital interloper’s suspected viewing history. But I was able to confirm someone has been leaching off my account, as well as their location, thanks to a little digital sleuthing. They like Indian movies, live in the Netherlands and like Dutch subtitles.

I’ll get to how I discovered and confirmed the hack in a moment. But first, I have to figure out — do I care?

Or at least, do I care enough to go through the hassle of changing it and then updating every device logged into the account? Because that is no small undertaking. Between our family of four we at least 15 devices with a Netflix app.

Is it worth that hassle of changing all those just to foil this hacker? I mean, as I see it, there are two factors to warrant that effort. The first is that I am paying for it and this Dutch-speaking Bollywood fan is not, so it’s like she is stealing from me. But I am not losing anything, so it’s more like she is stealing from Netflix, and while I can’t condone that theft, it’s really their problem. The other issue is that Netflix bases its suggestions for future viewing on past streaming, so she is really jacking up my algorithm.

In fact, her intrusion might have gone unnoticed, except for a few telltale signs, one of which was her taste in shows, which brings me back to the method I used for discovery and confirmation.

The first clue showed up about a month ago. Sometimes when I would start up Netflix, Dutch subtitles were enabled. Now, sometimes we use English subtitles, and English is right below Dutch on the list, so the first time I brushed it off as an honest mistake. But then it happened again. And again.

When the romantic drama “A Christmas Prince” showed up in my “Continue Watching” queue, something seemed seriously off. Same with “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi,” an Indian romantic comedy in Hindi and “Raising the Bar,” a “heartfelt” and “inspiring sports drama” about an elite female gymnast who “re-enters competitive gymnastics, trying to move forward while making amends with her past.” By the time I found Küçük Esnaf, a Turkish-language comedy about an honest locksmith trying to pay off a debt to the mob, in my wife’s queue, I figured it was time to investigate.

At this point, I should also probably point out that Netflix sent me a warning email in November that reported somebody had logged into my account in The Netherlands. But I ignored it because, after all, I have received enough “warning” emails that they seem suspect themselves.

Two tools accessible in your Netflix Settings can help you monitor what and whom has been streaming on your account.

Once my curiosity was piqued, I found a couple of useful tools by logging into my Netflix account settings. One is a link to “Recent device streaming activity,” and clicking on that link listed every time since February that a new device had logged into my account to stream video. And sure enough, on Aug. 20, at 8:06 local time, someone logged into my account on a smart TV from the IP address 213.127.52.159. Now, an IP address is linked to a physical location, and the website WhatIsMyIpAdress.com lists that location as North Holland in The Netherlands, along with a map showing the greater metro area of Amsterdam. Since August, 10 devices in The Netherlands had accessed my account.

Digging deeper revealed more information about this person. Still in the account section, under “My Profile” is a link titled “Viewing activity,” which lists every video and the date it was streamed, which is how I found out someone on Sept. 11 watched “Chennai Express,” an “emotional, exciting, romantic” story of “What could have been a sad journey” but “Turns joyful for Rahul when he falls in love with a woman en route to submerging his grandfather’s ashes.” That definitely wasn’t me. I’m really more of a “Peaky Blinders” or “BoJack Horseman” kind of viewer.

Just as I was digging deeper into my investigation, a co-worker mentioned that she had noticed a strange movie title in her “continue watching” queue. After I told her how to investigate it, she was able to confirm someone in Tennessee had been accessing her account. She changed her password right away. Me, I am still figuring out whether to cut off access to the illicit viewer, or to monitor her viewing history just out of curiosity. That might seem a little intrusive, but then again, so is using a stranger’s hacked Netflix account, so fair is fair.

Just for fun, though, I renamed my profile as “Ik weet wie je bent,” which Google Translate says is “I know who you are” in Dutch.

Technology should make our lives easier, but oftentimes needlessly complicates them. “This Digital Life” is a technology column in The Kentucky Standard that aims to help readers navigate our increasingly digitized world. Email suggestions for topics to editor@kystandard.com.

  • Useful tips for monitoring your Netflix account1. On a computer or mobile device, log into your account
    2. Select “Account”
    • Under Settings click on “Recent device streaming activity” to view all devices that have logged into your account and their locations.
    • Under My Profile click on “Viewing activity”  to see all videos and the date they were streamed for a particular profile. Note: some accounts have more than one profile, so select viewing activity for each profile (like if your kids have their own account).