Netflix video rental has grown into a very big business, shipping 1.5 million DVDs a day to its subscribers. Along the way, it's spawned a luxuriant undergrowth of hackers of its service. Netflix has established a sort of symbiotic relationship with them, and takes the good (fanatical interest in the business, good ideas for features) along with the bad (gaming the service, plain stealing).
Not all hacks require loads of technology know-how: One user discovered that he could view his Netflix queue through his Bank of America portfolio page, an easy-to-set-up aggregator for bank and e-mail accounts that BOA offers free to its account holders. And around the country, film fans have set up movie swaps with other local Netflix subscribers, allowing them access to additional films without waiting for the company to mail them out.
It was the hackers who first uncovered Netflix's secret "throttling" technique -- a controversial inventory allocation practice that favors new and infrequent users, and results in delays and reduced availability for heavier movie watchers. Under pressure, Netflix modified its terms of service to acknowledge the practice in January 2005. ("If all other factors are the same, we give priority to those members who receive the fewest DVDs through our service," the TOS now reads).