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?