Deactivated PS4 Consoles an Issue for Sony

Posted by | June 08, 2015 | News | 7 Comments
Playstation 4 update classic playstation 2 games

The big gaming console makers (Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft) have different and sometimes confusing ways of preventing users from breaking the rules when it comes to sharing games. In most cases, this involves requiring the online account of users to be tied to the physical console on which they play. This is the policy of Sony, the maker of the PlayStation 4 (PS4). However, some PS4 owners have lately been encountering issues with their consoles being deactivated (or separated) from their PlayStation Network accounts without their knowledge. The users are are unable to reactivate their console, essentially removing access to some of the games they have purchased.

One Family’s Story

We spoke to two PlayStation users: a husband and wife who prefer to remain anonymous. Our source logged in to his account to play Mortal Kombat X in April and got disconnected from the network. After changing his passwords and contacting customer support over text chat, he discovered that his PS4 console had been deactivated without his knowledge. There was no way to reactivate the family’s PS4 console as the primary device, because another console had already been activated for that account.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  • When you own a PlayStation 4 you can activate it as your primary device. This means you can download all your purchases from the PlayStation network. Other users who log into their accounts on your primary device can also play those games.
  • The PS4 can generally be activated and deactivated only through a menu on that device.

You can have only one activated device per account. This rule exists to keep people from activating multiple devices and sharing games with other households. Sony wants people to buy their own copies of the games. This is a great rule for families who live together. Parents can have their own account tied to their credit cards. That way they can handle purchasing games and control who has access to what. Kids can have sub-accounts that have less permissions than full accounts, but they can still play the games on their own accounts and get their own trophies.

This isn’t how it worked out for this family.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking,” our source said. She and her husband have accounts for their daughters on their deactivated PS4. The daughters can no longer play games on those accounts, because they technically belong to their parents and are no longer available to them. “We found a way for the kids to play Minecraft. They’ve got access to that, just not the worlds they already built. [They can play with] none of their friends. All their friend lists are on their accounts.”


The activation screen on a PS4.

Sony’s online activation and deactivation policy says that users can only deactivate a PlayStation Network account from the console itself. It is possible to do this online, but Sony only allows customers to do this once every six months. Our sources never deactivated their console, but when they logged into Sony website they discovered that it had been deactivated and reactivated through the online system.

They have made several calls to customer support. When I spoke to them in late May, it had been over a month since they initially encountered their problem. As it stands, there seems to be no way to reactivate their PS4 console until October, when the six months are up.

“It’s one of the main reasons we bought the PS4, because our girls are gamers like their dad,” she said. She added that they don’t play games all the time. Like many families, they use screen time as a reward for doing chores. Losing access to games on the sub-accounts took away one of their incentives. “They think it kind of sucks,” she said. “They have to earn their time, so to them it’s important.”

Hackers or an Error?

On March 26, the PS4 hardware received its biggest operating system update since launch. The 2.51 update added and streamlined a lot of features, including some that are useful to families. But some PS4 owners are wondering if the update could have introduced an error that automatically deactivated their consoles.



This family is certain their account was hacked. But this raises the question: Why can’t Sony do anything about it?

“I’ve had friends who have had their account compromised while playing other online games such as World of Warcraft and Rift, and were able to get everything back under control that day,” the source said. “You would think somebody as big as Sony would be able to provide the same customer service that a smaller company is able to accomplish, in way less time.”

Sony’s policy dictates that if a user has a security breach, the company bears no responsibility. Likewise, they’re not concerned if users get their accounts frozen because of game-sharing. But Sony can tell how many times an account has been activated and deactivated on devices. Shouldn’t they be able to assess whether users are game-sharing or whether they’ve had their accounts effectively hijacked?

“If I was the owner of a business, I wouldn’t like that either. You want people to buy the games,” she said. “They’re protecting their games, I get that—but right now to me it feels like they’re protecting the people that are hacking.”

There’s another possibility: the 2.51 update could have introduced a security breach that hackers took advantage of.

A Dead-End in Sony Customer Support

Our source called customer support several times. She had trouble even getting representatives to understand that she couldn’t log onto the activated PS4 and fix the problem herself. Since a different PS4 console had been activated for her account, she would need to find that device first and deactivate it. Of course, no one knew where that device was. “I think their system is a little flawed, because they should’ve been able to reactivate ours as primary. It’s our account. That should’ve been something they should be able to review and fix.”

Other users who have experienced the same problems have called support with little success. They describe representatives hanging up on them or reading from pre-recorded scripts. Obviously this isn’t a problem with the support representatives themselves. Sony’s policies seem to be putting everyone in a difficult position.

For this family, the situation has an added sting. “All my friends consider me to be a ‘Sony fanboy,’ which is partially true,” he told me. “I have been a huge fan of PlayStation since PS1. I have all four PlayStation systems, as well as a PSP and Vita. I have always been supportive for them and praise them. Until a month ago. Now I feel let down by the company I love.”

His wife was laughing a little when she told me the same thing, but added, “He’s one of the customers that you should like and want to keep. I think it really almost broke his heart that they’re treating him this way.”

“A lot of people buy these PS4s for their kids and they don’t play them like he does, or I do. Even I wouldn’t have known exactly what was going on. I wouldn’t have known to get on the computer and change the password right away. If they [other parents] had called [Sony] and not known what they were talking about—if I got the run-around, could you imagine someone that doesn’t know what’s going on?”

This isn’t the first time Sony has gotten into hot water for the way they treat customers. A BBC investigation took a look at Sony’s refund policies in Europe after users failed to get refunds on purchases made on stolen accounts. In January 2015, Sony began compensating users whose accounts were compromised in a 2011 hack that affected over 70 million accounts. This came after the settlement of a $15 million lawsuit.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

If the deactivations are caused by an error, we’ll just have to wait for Sony to fix it. However, there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe from hacking.

Give Your Device a Name

One of the reasons our source is certain he was hacked is because he named his PS4 console. That’s how he can tell that his account has been reactivated on a PS4 that isn’t his. You can name your PS4 by logging into your account online, selecting “Devices,” and giving each activated device a unique name.

gaming safety tips for parents and children sony

Source: Huffington Post

Use a Unique Password

Hackers may not be able to access your credit-card information from your account, but they can still use it to purchase games, movies, and other downloadable items for PlayStation devices. Using a password that is unique to your PlayStation account means it’s less likely to be found out. Password managers like 1Password help keep your passwords secure.

Two-Factor Authentication

Using two-factor authentication on the email address you use for your PlayStation account is another good step to stay secure. And hey, you should be doing this already! I know it’s a pain, but better safe than sorry.

Moving Forward

No matter how this happened, the fact is that Sony has a bad track record for keeping customers safe and for dishing out compensation when it fails. Account holders should be responsible and keep their passwords safe, but Sony could take steps as well—if it wants to keep its customer base.

Introducing two-factor authentification for activating and deactivating consoles would be a start. Needing to confirm the reactivation through Sony’s website or an app could potentially give users a chance to react before their account is compromised.


Source: Amazon

Sony could automatically email account holders when their device is deactivated and email again with an alert when another device is activated as primary for that account. They could provide the IP address for all activations. This would let users know definitively where their account’s primary device was. Sony accounts generally include the home address of the users. Users should be notified when their account is accessed from an unfamiliar location (something Facebook already does for security).

If Sony can see that a customer isn’t taking advantage of deactivations to share games, there’s no reason they shouldn’t protect the customer’s access to those games.

“We have the $50 PlayStation Plus. We have kids so obviously we own a bunch of controllers.  We own the system. We buy the games,” our source told me. “We put a lot of money into it, and the whole reason we have it is so the girls can have something to do too, because they really like it too.”

Like many users, they’re waiting to see what happens in six months.

“If we don’t get it back in October, I think we’ll have a little more to say about it.”

We’ve asked Sony to comment on this story, and we will update it if they reply. 

Simone de Rochefort

About Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.

  • x1tach1x

    Its happening to me right now and they are still as useless as they were back with this family

  • ScrawL

    How come they haven’t addressed this or given us, their CUSTOMERS, some sort of response. They could at least let us know they are working on a fix for this problem. I’d think that would make people feel a tiny bit better about it.

    I’ve been reading posts and other things online the last hour all of people having this problem. How come Sony can’t see they should do something?

    It’s pretty depressing actually. I’ve been a loyal PlayStation gamer since PlayStation One. It really let’s me down.

    • KNiles83

      Same here… have had a whole bunch of bad experiences and seen even more happen to my friends, when it comes to Sony “Support”…

      Like I wrote in another comment, it feels like if it’s not in a pre-written FAQ, they won’t help you. There is no personalized support at all.

  • Ryan Evans

    It’s been 6 months since I bought my first ps4 I still can’t activate or deactivate it, Sony help are useless. They don’t understand that I didn’t own a ps4 before and I haven’t used my psn account since 2011 so there’s no way I’ve activated a console, nothing’s been bought online until I got my ps4.

  • KNiles83

    Some time in January this year I noticed the secondary profile on my console no longer could play any of the games purchased on the main profile. I obviously tried to activate my console as primary after reading why it was – and got met with:

    “Cannot activate this system as your primary PS4. You have already activated another system as your primary PS4 with your account. To activate this system, deactivate the other system.”

    Well, the problem is; I’ve never owned another system and have never game-shared or shared my login details to anyone.

    I e-mailed Sony and they told me to deactivate the other console from the console menu, not understanding what I said; That I have never owned another console.
    After that, they pointed me to the “deactivate all” option through the PSN account management … And there, I was met with:
    “You have deactivated your devices recently and cannot use this feature at this time.”

    They also told me to call them, but after reading how “successful” it had been for others (= Sony “couldn’t” do anything when the 6 month restriction was in place), I decided I’ll just wait for the 6 months.

    Well, now 8 months later, I went to check the online site again, and what do you know, it still reads:
    “You have deactivated your devices recently and cannot use this feature at this time.”

    Oh and ofcourse I changed my password early on in January when I noticed this and thought someone might’ve deactivated it and used my login details… though now I kinda think it might be a bug. What else would explain it?

    But, again I changed my password – just incase somehow my login details would AGAIN be in the hands of someone who has beat me to it and deactivated my account. But I have no idea how on earth they would have done it, as I changed all of my passwords (to different ones) back then, when I suspected a breach.

    I suppose I will e-mail sony again.. and then have to call them. But seeing how incredibly poorly they’re handling customer support these days* – I have little faith in ever getting this solved by them.

    Oh and .. “Sony’s policy dictates that if a user has a security breach, the company bears no responsibility.” .. Really? They’ve said that?
    And yet, Sony had a huge information leak of their users in 2011… 77 million users information leaked to hackers, to be exact.
    Are they really in the position of declining help from their customers, when it comes to security breaches? In a position of taking no responsibility for security breaches?

    Wow….. I can’t believe this. First I lost faith in Microsoft and decided to never purchase xbox one, due to having been treated like sh*t as a customer and now Sony is doing the same.


    * = My close friend actually had an issue for half a year where a user kept forcefully inviting her to group chat messages… There was no way of stopping it, the person could just keep creating countless profiles and adding her, despite blocking his profiles and never even friending him. As the system automatically adds you to a group message that is sent.. it doesn’t ask you about it… this person did it constantly and she no longer could use any notifications due to this, as the person did this to hundreds of people… the notifications were spamming her all the time.

    She reported the person and his duplicate accounts while it was going, contacted sony for it etc. and sony didn’t do anything. After a while of her reporting this spammer/stalker/harrassers accounts, SHE GOT A WARNING that she will be suspended if she keeps on making so many reports.

    Well, a few months later from that, she got banned from psn because someone had reported the name of her community that had the word “secsy” in it. It was “mature and inappropriate content”. She got suspended for 2 weeks.

    On the day she got back online, she got suspended for 4 weeks. Immediately after having time to do anything. Why? Because the community logo/image had also been reported. It was a drawn girl.. fully clothed, nothing inappropriate in it.. but on her, there was the word “Secsy” (which was a part of her in-game crews name for one online community)… so she got banned for a month.

    Well, it goes on;
    She waited the suspension out and got back online and deleted the entire community, to prevent being banned yet again for little to no reason.
    About a month goes by and one of her stalkers makes the community again. Same community name, same image, same everything… She wasn’t ok with it – that person posing as the GTA crew representative like that… so she decided to report the community.

    After a good while of waiting, she got a warning for reporting the community pointlessly as there was nothing wrong with the community.

    Meanwhile, they had not replied to any of her support requests on why she was suspended.

    I was in the community as a moderator aswell before she was banned and the community deleted – and I got a warning too.. the e-mail read:

    “On 13-04-2016, we noted that your online activity in Community was in breach of the PlayStation®Network Terms & Conditions for the following reason: Mature content .

    In this instance we do not believe your actions warrant a suspension, but please be advised that any further breaches of the Terms & Conditions may result in a formal warning or even a temporary or permanent suspension of your account from the PlayStation®Network.”

    What did I do? I removed a comment from a member that was insulting another member and then wrote: “Insults removed – don’t behave like that to another members, that’s not very secsy”.

    That sentence was worth a warning – and mature content.

  • Tomek

    I had the same situation and I have solved it without problems. I have called Sony support (in Poland) and explained the situation, they asked me to change my password to SEN (which I already did), checked that there were no suspicious activities on my account and deactivated the ‘false’ PS4. After that I immediately reactivated my real ps4 as primary and everything is ok – I hope it will remain like that. Important note: Sony said it is an act of their good will and they will do it only once! If situation repeats I’m on my own – I need to care more about my passwords etc.

  • Elliander Eldridge

    I’d add that Sony is essentially supporting piracy with this move. Since they do not flag the consoles that steal an account, and allow any account on that console to use the purchased games, and have a policy to prevent this from being changed within 6 months, they are basically creating a model where you can steal someone else’s game collection for 6 months with no consequences to any of your accounts. You play on your accounts with your trophies and save files and when the six months are up and you lose access you just steal another account with the same game by looking at trophy records of who else has the game. It would be such an easy thing to fix, but clearly they don’t want anyone purchasing any of their games through their online store.

    Something else about this that bothers me personally which I noticed: although I have to put a password in to delete or add a credit card, I do not have to add a password to make a purchase and I don’t even have the option to require that a password is added at that stage. Granted, if an account is compromised by stealing the password, such a requirement wouldn’t really help anything, butt what if my account is stolen through an exploit that doesn’t directly reveal my password? And likewise, if I change my password in time after an account is stolen, but they don’t have to put the new password in to make a purchase, what benefit does even changing the password have aside from keeping them from locking me out? I would have no choice but to delete all forms of online payment through the website and refrain from ever add a payment source for a full 6 months which again means that Sony does not want anyone spending money in their online store.

    Thankfully my passwords are complex enough to require the heat death of the universe to get into, but most people have their passwords revealed through hacking another service. For example, if you’re Yahoo email was one of the billion or so compromised emails, the hacker would know at a glance if you had a PSN account and from there they can just take it over by resetting your password through the email before you have time to do anything.