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Should you share passwords with your partner?

To share or not to share? When it comes to love and romance, that is the password question, isn’t it?

This Valentine’s Day, we attempt to lift the lid on this steamy cybersecurity subject to see if two people in a romantic relationship are both on board on the matter of exchanging passwords with each other. Some might generally see this as something someone would logically and naturally, do—even at the early stage of dating. But the bigger question is: Is it wise?

Why couples share their passwords

They say it’s all about trust.

At least that was one of the reasons Comparitech found when it asked 1,000 survey respondents why they share their social media passwords with their partners. Others admitted to sharing out of convenience, transparency, and even as proof of devotion. We can throw in practicality here, too, because if couples share their different streaming accounts with each other, for example, they can save money. But the top reason was they “have nothing to hide”. 

Password sharing among couples is really very common. Pew Research said a majority of Americans have shared their smartphone password or passcode (75 percent), email account (62 percent), and social media accounts (42 percent).

Perhaps one reason one would agree to share their passwords is so we’re ready for worst-case scenario situations.

“For the same reason everyone should have wills, if something happens to your significant other — i.e., they die or are in a coma — and you can’t access their phone, it’s a huge issue,” said a woman named Benita, who was interviewed by The Cut on this subject. “My husband and I talked about this specifically because it was a problem for his mom when his dad died. She didn’t even know the cable password or Wi-Fi info, and it was hard for her. My husband and I also have each other’s fingerprints saved on our phones. That said, I have never gone into his phone. But I can, and that’s what matters.”

Why couples don’t share their passwords

They say it’s all about privacy.

But, surprisingly, this is not the top answer, per the same survey results. In fact, the top result was a bit funny and anticlimactic, really (sorry): no one asked for each other’s passwords.

Some respondents also viewed password sharing with their partner as “too controlling”. Apart from not feeling comfortable with the idea, some also don’t believe it’s a validating factor for their relationship and have the hindsight to protect their accounts in the event of a relationship fallout.

“It’s no secret that password-sharing is a way for consumers to get around the cost of paying for multiple services,” Hari Ravichandran, founder and CEO of digital safety provider Aura, told NPR. “What consumers aren’t considering is that these behaviors make them vulnerable to digital crime when people outside your household—even ones you trust—have your passwords on their devices.”

And then there’s the issue of when you break up with your significant password-sharing other…

What to do if your ex has your password

1. Change your password/pin code. 

The most logical thing to do when an ex has your password is to change it. If your ex knows your phone pin code, change that, too, or use a different Lock Screen method like a pattern. And while we’re on the subject…

2. Never reuse your password.

Sharing the one password that unlocks every online account you have with your partner—or anyone, for that matter—is like lovingly presenting someone with a big red button that sets everything on fire. And that might happen if you don’t start making unique passwords for every single one of your online accounts.

3. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)

In the event that you can’t change your password, you can still keep your account out of your ex’s reach by setting up a second verification layer: 2FA—provided you haven’t set this up yet. Make sure that you’re using the strongest 2FA option for that account.

4 Lie.

Some accounts use security questions as a form of verification. If you’ve been with someone who has grown to know you too well, another way to lock them out of your account is to lie about your real answers to those security questions. Just keep a record of those lies hidden somewhere accessible yet safe so you don’t end up locked out yourself.

5. Reset and reclaim your computing and smart devices

Couples share a lot of things, including computers (desktop, laptop) and IoT (internet of things) devices. Before you reclaim your devices, make sure you do a factory reset on all of them to flush out all the things, including access your ex may still have to it. For computers, wipe your browsing and search histories, bookmarks, and saved credentials and card details.

Too risky or so worth it?

Password sharing in a romantic relationship is seen by some as a litmus test for couples or a right of passage in a modern, digitally-driven world. So before you and your better half go for it, make sure you and your partner know the cons of doing this as much as the pros. Forget what other people think and say—it’s not about them, anyway. At the end of the day, the decision falls on only the both of you.

The Cut’s Liz Krieger said it best. Think of sharing passwords with your partner as “less as a litmus test and more like a Rorschach test”, otherwise known as ‘the inkblot test’.

“[W]e see in it what we want, what our past has taught us to see, and ultimately, what we hope to be true”.

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Jovi Umawing

Knows a bit about everything and a lot about several somethings. Writes about those somethings, usually in long-form.