What is your stance on password sharing with significant others?

I’m sort of continuing with my data privacy rant from Friday, but this time I want to bring it around and talk about another privacy aspect. This comes up every once in a while in conversations, and my opinion usually gets people irritated or angry for whatever reason. So let me ask you a question:

Do you share passwords for private systems/services with your significant others? By that I mean, does your spouse/companion/concubine/porcupine (or whatever) have access to your personal email / facebook account? A root level access to your personal laptop and all your files? Do you require that level of access from them?

Maybe this is how I was raised, but I would never, ever, ever even think of asking anyone for a password. I really think that no matter how close of a relationship you can have with another person, everyone needs to have a little bit of personal space and privacy. I would never open a snail-mail letter addressed to someone else, and by the same token I would never read someones email. In fact I get profoundly uncomfortable whenever someone tries to give me access to their email or to their computer.

In fact if I absolutely need to use someones computer I make a point of opening their browser in the icognito/privacy mode. Why? Because I do not want to accidentally stumble upon their browsing history, I don’t want to see their bookmarks or interact with their open sessions. Most people never log out of their social networks or email, so sometimes when you are at their computer you can type in the URL of a given service trying to log in, and suddenly get full access to their account. I am aware of that and I try to be very careful to respect the other persons privacy when using their machine. I would expect no less from anyone using my machine.

Unfortunately, a lot of people think this is weird. I don’t know why, but it is a very popular idea that personal privacy does not extend into the virtual spaces. They wouldn’t touch a dead-tree letter in a sealed envelope, they wouldn’t go digging in someones desk drawers but email, facebook and browsing history are a fair game. In fact, a lot of people will demand this level of access from their spouses or significant others.

The “if you don’t have anything to hide you won’t mind sharing passwords” argument is the chief weapon in the arsenal of the password sharers. I don’t think I have to convince anyone how stupid and contrived this notion is. It rides on a has a purely emotional undercurrent, and no amount of logical reasoning can actually undermine it. You can say that it is not about hiding but about personal privacy and trust, but this is hardly ever works. You are on a on a disadvantage arguing for privacy because the more you defend your position, the more it looks like you actually have something to hide. So it turns from a privacy argument to an interrogation where you are a guilty party concealing some embarrassing secret. And the only way to prove your innocence is to capitulate and hand over the keys to the kingdom.

To me, this is about trust. The very act of asking for access to private correspondence and/or files indicates a severe lack of it. It seems invasive, clingy and almost obsessive. But I am continuously surprised how many people think nothing of it. They freely share their passwords because they feel they have nothing to hide, and expect the same in return. It baffles me. But maybe it is just my upbringing – I was taught to value personal privacy of others. In my family everyone had their personal space, and going through someones desk drawers was almost unthinkable. You did not open other family members personal letters, you did not read their diaries, you don’t go snooping in their personal belongings… I just extend this notion to the electronic realm. Because let’s face it – no one writes letters long hand anymore, no one keeps a dead tree diary and no one keeps hard copies of embarrassing shit. All that stuff has been digitized. So the personal courtesy and respect for privacy should surely cover your hard drive and your online accounts, don’t you think so?

What is your stance on this? Have you ever asked anyone for their passwords? Have you ever been asked? What did you do?

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14 Responses to What is your stance on password sharing with significant others?

  1. uhm.. hard question
    my significant other knows most low-security-passwords i use, most because she too needs to log into my pcs sometimes and i didn’t want to set up 2 Useraccounts for doing exactly the same on my Mediaplayer an similar.

    Then i have those “extra special uber security passwords” (including root-access on my server, my email-account an alike) that contain about 8-16 random characters, including switching case and special caracters. I can’t even tell these passwords easily because the only way for me to remember these is by typing them.
    These one she doesn’t know. Not because i never wanted to tell her (i even did once or twice) but because she doesn’t care to remember these and never even tried to type them.
    Its pretty much like living in the same flat. We know we can open every drawer the other has, but we just don’t do. Isn’t that something like trust?^^

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  2. @ Dr. Azrael Tod: whoa.. i surely did type a lot of shit in this comment.
    i hope its still some kind of readable, even if it will take a bit of work to get through the spelling-chaos

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  3. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    I would never give my password to anyone ever. Every time someone else uses my computer, I feel very uncomfortable. Same thing if they look at what I’m doing at my computer, I make sure to minimize every window until they leave. When I talk on a phone, when someone is nearby I try to talk in the way it would be harder to understand about what I’m talking without hearing the other end of the wire.
    Maybe I’m just paranoid, but one day it will save us all.

    “if you don’t have anything to hide you won’t mind …” is a sentence from hell, everyone has something to hide and everyone who says those words should be punched in the face.

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  4. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m with Dr. Azrael Tod above. The wife and I do share our passwords, and we have no qualms about doing so. I don’t mind sharing my convoluted passwords as well for sites like paypal if she wants to use, but she rather just let me type it instead.

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  5. Jed AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I don’t share any of my passwords in general, even with my wife. We each have our own computer, our own email, etc, so I don’t see any reason why we need to go on each others. Just the same as I don’t go through her phone or letters addressed to her.

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  6. road UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    My wife and I know eachothers’ passwords and we wouldn’t mind if we opened eachothers’ snail-mail, either. Certain behaviors are obvious violations of trust (e.g. reading personal e-mails without permission) but you can’t really keep secrets from someone you share a bed/life/family with. Maybe that’s naive… I haven’t been married that long. But if I didn’t trust her with my password I also wouldn’t trust her with my future/kids/finances/etc. Just because I know her password doesn’t mean I abuse that trust.

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  7. kmac JAPAN Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    i know my girlfriend’s passwords… even changed them for her so they are a little more secure. (can you believe one of them was 3 numbers? -_-).

    there is no way i would give mine out to anyone though. she recently needed to log into my computer to do something while i was at work. i just remotely logged in for her. even having multiple passwords, i think it’s the job im in, plus the fact im a nerd that i will never give my passwords out to anyone.

    i saw a document a while back that included all important information if you were to die, and passwords for a lot of important sites (banking, stocks, even personal mail) were included in there. i’ve been meaning to fill this out for a while and put it in a safety deposit box only to be opened once i’ve died (which i hope wont be for some time.. im only 25 XP).

    i guess all im trying to say is only way someone is going to get my passwords is over my dead body.

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  8. Nope.
    I don’t share passwords with my wife or with anyone.
    All of my passwords (a different one for each account) are stored in a GPG-encrypted file, and my GPG passphrase is within epsilon of weird, insane, and anal-retentive.
    As some others, we each have our own computers and they are hands-off to the other.

    We view privacy as a primary extension of our individual and personal property rights.

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  9. Elysa Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I was taught to value personal privacy of others. In my family everyone had their personal space, and going through someones desk drawers was almost unthinkable. You did not open other family members personal letters, you did not read their diaries, you don’t go snooping in their personal belongings… I just extend this notion to the electronic realm. Because let’s face it – no one writes letters long hand anymore, no one keeps a dead tree diary and no one keeps hard copies of embarrassing shit.

    Hmm. Interesting. I grew up in a culture that has no conception of “personal privacy.” I’m already in my mid-twenties, and my mom still reads my letters if I leave them lying on the desk. (Yes, when she comes over as a guest in my house.) I think she would read my diary if it were available to her. That said, I was quite glad when stuff became digitized, and my mother, bless her heart, did not bother to learn how to use a computer. But, I’ve digressed…

    As a personal principle, I don’t share my passwords or computers with other people. I used to work in IT at a large organization, and I would often have to bring my work home. I had to use VPN a lot, and I was quite conscious not to leave an open trail, etc. However, there were times during my cohabitation with my so-called partner/porcupine when it was easier to give my partner the password to wake my laptop from sleep than to get out of bed, go to the other room, and get the other laptop, or ask him to switch user accounts, etc. (Yes, I was beyond lazy, but that’s hardly the point.)

    I think whether you share your password with your partner is entirely your business. I also think it reflects the personalities of the individuals involved. Some couples are very individualist; they believe that even though they’re together, they should do things separately. Some couples are extremely interdependent, and they share almost everything. Many of us are somewhere in between… A good example for comparison, perhaps, is joint bank accounts or credit cards. Do you establish a joint bank account because you “have nothing to hide”? Because it’s “convenient”? Because it shows “trust”?

    I definitely think you can’t expect, or demand, your partner to share anything with you. Trust is not a right; it’s a privilege. If you haven’t shown yourself to be good with managing money, I will never establish a joint bank account with you. The “you have nothing to hide” excuse just doesn’t make sense to me, I guess.

    On the other hand, I’m also not much of a “separatist” when it comes to common relationship “properties.” I think you shouldn’t be too paranoid with your significant others when it comes to passwords if they are generally responsible, and if sharing such passwords do not put you at risk of significant loss. At some point, you have to trust them with some things. The key is, does it make sense to share that information with them? My partner doesn’t need access to my work account, or my e-mail, or my bank, but sometimes, he should be able to use the computer to look up a YouTube video or a dinner recipe. I trust that while he’s on my computer looking at YouTube videos, he’s not also searching for that sensitive file on whatever.

    So, in short, I have nothing against password sharing as long as the people involved are fully aware of what they’re doing, and if sharing the intended password does not lead to a cascade of other unintended consequences.

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  10. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    My wife has all my passwords, and I have all hers. It is partially for convenience – account sharing and whatnot. But also, it is for honesty reasons. Mistrust undermines relationships, and secrets can give reason for mistrust. I would never share any of my passwords with anyone else. I would never ask anyone else for their password.

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  11. Adrian BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I know my girlfriends password as I made it for her. (It used to be ‘azerty’, go figure.)
    She doesn’t know mine though.

    Now that I think of it, it’s kind of weird that I can breach her privacy, but she can’t breach mine.

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  12. SapientIdiot UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I’ve always been paranoid enough to keep my hard drives encrypted, and until recently i just used long pass phrases (~20-30 characters) to unlock them. Now i’ve gotten into using even more complex keys, but i keep them on a USB stick or SD Card, and have a grub boot option to boot using a USB key. I have a seperate (physical) key for each computer, and my SO is aware of their location and how to use them if needed (and to not do so for any authroities.). She also knows my login password on one machine so she can log in to play games i have installed with wine.

    For the most part in regards to actual passwords, I don’t have much reason to keep them from my SO (or her from me), but we don’t really have any interest in snooping, and we use seperate computers for pretty much everything except gaming and watching movies.

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  13. I share the same peculiarities; She doesn’t know mine, I know (at least a few of) hers. Though I won’t use them without asking permission each and every time.

    Nor have I a problem of lending access to any of my accounts / computers – but I won’t share the passwords. This isn’t about not trusting, it is about … trust. :)

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  14. JuEeHa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    My parents still can’t understand why I have set up guest account on my computer that I nuke every time someone has used it. It took years for me convince them to make separate accounts for our shared computer(they still use their shared acoount without password and won’t let me make them an account that is not admin. ugh). They also think if I close my monitor when I have my email open I have something to hide, but won’t even let me on the same room as them if they open a letter. I just hate that.

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