This Valentines Day, protect yourself

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She loves me, she loves me not? Sharing your password with your bae isn’t going to get you any closer to an answer. The paradigm of sharing passwords with your significant other in order to ‘prove’ your love is a story as old as the internet. And so is the opinion that it’s absolutely ridiculous. 

Or maybe that’s just us.

Is it really that bad?

It actually is. 

McAfee’s recent study goes to show how far the problem has come. Of the adults that McAfee surveyed based in different cities across the country (Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore), a mere 16% of respondents said that they would not share their passwords and PINs with their significant other. 

The other 86% had no qualms about giving out their personal details to their partners. 

You could justify that there was some sort of utility to be derived from this. But if 45% of the participants say that they’ve used this privilege to spy on their partners, it is a whole different ball game. 

If sharing confidential details is meant to be an exercise in trust, shouldn’t trust run both ways? That’s nearly half the people preaching about trust…and then turning around the violate it!

The normalisation problem

Here’s where things get interesting. Why do people feel so comfortable sharing their passwords without being too wary of the repercussions that it may produce? 

Because those are the constructs we were brought up with.

The reason that sharing your password is interlinked with how much a person trusts you is because as kids, that’s what our parents told us. Online parental safety norms is where this whole thing started. 

Albeit for practical purposes, young kids often give their passwords to their parents for a myriad of reasons. First off, when you’re that young, more often than not, you actually lose your password more often than you use it. Second, parents believe that kids need the supervision. Sounds fair enough, right?

It’s when these tweens turn into teens that the situation gets sticky. Some parents don’t let go and, like every teenager in history, the kids want their freedom and privacy. While a few parents go with the conventional “because I am your mother/father” statement, others often use the narrative of “trust” to explain why it’s so important for teens to hand over their passwords.

As far as parents and children are concerned, the whole crux of asking kids for their password is based on the issue of safety and necessary parental intervention in cases of emergency is justified.  

One example that stands out is how one set of parents told their kids to write their passwords on a slip of paper and put it into the piggy bank. Their justification was that they didn’t need access to the accounts unless and until there was an “emergency”. That piggy bank allows a social contract to take a physical form. 

Which is why, despite most people knowing that sharing confidential information is risky, do it anyway. It’s the risk that puts value on trust. It’s an all too common a teen practice that has been shaped by the household norms that it follows.

This isn’t to say that password sharing isn’t abused. The numbers speak for themselves. But, it’s because of what happens at home that kids relate passwords to trust and this is what often leads to terrible implications in the long run. 

Caution first, please

Though extreme instances of a password sharing going sour are rare, it’s sometimes useful to have perspective on what it is that you’re getting yourself into. 

One incident that was particularly eerie was when a Bengaluru techie attacked her husband with a kitchen knife because he was reading text messages on her phone. There was another where the husband accused his wife of ‘hacking’ into his account while she sued him on dowry charges, even though he was the one who had shared his password in the first place. It’s not hacking when you’re giving your information away.

But, here’s where the problem lies. We equate implicit trust with giving away passwords and bank PINs along the logic of – “I have nothing to hide from you, darling”. However, what if my partner uses the information to actually check up on whether I really have something to hide or not? Where’s the implicit trust from the other side? 

And think about it, if you wanted to cheat – there are a million ways to do it off the grid. 

Long story short –  be increasingly wary of who you share your work credentials with because with studies like “Social Engineering: Passwords in Exchange for Chocolate” floating around, you never know if you’re being manipulated into a false sense of security. 

Sam Biddle even called password sharing the “linchpin of intimacy” in the 21st century and offered advice on how to do it right. 

If it’s going to happen, might as well be safe about it, right? 

There’s no standardised way of doing it but there are plenty of suggestions on what the rules could be. Maybe, see what works for you? 

No wonder that this phenomenon gets compared to sex. So, if you are engaging, be safe! 

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