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National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

The Dangers of Sharing Passwords

A New York Times article recently discussed the growing trend of teens sharing passwords with their significant others as a sign of intimacy. However, this tendency goes beyond teenage relationships, and more and more adults are finding themselves being tempted to give their passwords to their partners.

Technology has created a whole new realm for our relationships to live in — the digital world. We email our partners and share digital calendars with them, letting each other know every move we plan to make. We text them, sending pictures of where we are and who we are with. We have them as Facebook friends and post and comment on each others’ walls and pictures.

As if this ability to see our every thought and action weren’t enough, sharing passwords to email and social media accounts has now become a display of commitment for some couples.

People who choose to share passwords with their partner often argue that they have nothing to hide. They say that password sharing is the ultimate sign of affection and commitment. It gives the other person in the relationship complete access to everything that they do on the internet. It removes all barriers between the couple.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

Sharing a password is like sharing a social security number. It gives our partner access to everything that we do online — even to our online identity.

For someone in an abusive relationship, sharing passwords can be a way to extend the abuser’s power and control over the victim. By obtaining a password, an abuser is able to use the digital realm to affect a victim’s offline daily life.

They can monitor actions, watch bank accounts to limit access to money, isolate the victim by controlling social media interactions and even use online activities as validation or excuses for abuse. This extension of control can be extremely dangerous.

Even in healthy relationships, sharing passwords is risky. When we choose to share a password with our partner, we give up a large amount of privacy. We open ourselves up to the opportunity that our partner might not like what we are saying or doing and give them the chance to moderate us and our actions.

We have to decide whether or not losing our privacy is worth the trust or security our partner gains.

Things get even more challenging if the relationship turns sour. The New York Times also recently discussed how this digital obsession is redefining what it means to break up.

If things begin to go bad, a partner with a password can search email and social media for hints of infidelity. They might become angered to see that their ex is talking to someone whom they dislike.

A partner might become angry during an argument or break up and threaten to spread personal details of their partner’s lives via email or social media. What happens if they follow through on that threat?

There’s also the potential that an angered partner could lock the other person out of his or her own account. If they have the password, they can easily change it. This creates a very real opportunity for identity theft or impersonation.

By giving your passwords to your partner, you are potentially empowering them to use the information against you. When you’re in a relationship with someone, you bring out the best in each other, but break ups often tend to have the opposite effect.

Ultimately, whether or not you share a password with your partner is your choice. You are the expert in your own relationship and you know what’s normal and safe and comfortable for you. What are your thoughts on password sharing? Can you think of more benefits? Can you think of more drawbacks?

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Technology Safety for Survivors

Technology safety is a very important issue in the domestic violence community. Technological advances have great benefits but there are also drawbacks and caution must be used, especially when communicating online.  People often don’t realize that the information they post online may reveal more about themselves than they intend. We sat down with an expert in the field to get insight and tips on safety. The following is our short question and answer session:

Where did you learn about online safety?

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) provides a great training program called Safety Net: the National Safe and Strategic Technology Project. Safety Net educates victims, their advocates and the general public on ways to use technology strategically to help find safety and escape domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking.

What advice do you have about internet browsing safety?

The most important thing to remember is to use a safe computer, one that the abuser has absolutely no access to. You can use a computer at the public library, at a friend’s place, a local internet cafe, etc. The reason for this is that everything you do on a computer can be tracked. Clearing the browsing history is not enough of a precaution because abusers can install spyware on your computer to track your usage even if they no longer have physical access to the computer.

What are some best practices for communicating safely online in regards to disclosure of personal information?

It is always best to disclose as little as possible online. You never know who may be reading what you write. Do not write anything you would not want an abuser to know. Think before sharing  any information about yourself or others that can identify you, including  names, specific locations, or any other unique personal information. It is also important to understand that email is not a secure form of communication; it can be tracked. Sending emails should be treated in the same manner you would treat sending postcards, they can end up anywhere and anyone can read them.

What are some other general tips you would like to share?

The following are some general tips provided by NNEDV:

Trust your instincts: If you suspect an abusive person knows too much, it  is possible that your phone, computer, email or other activities are being monitored.

Create a new email account: If you suspect that anyone abusive can access your email, consider creating an additional email account on a safer computer. Do not create or check this new email from a computer your abuser could access, in case it is monitored.

Change passwords and pin numbers: Some abusers use victim’s email and other accounts to impersonate and cause harm. If anyone abusive knows or may guess your passwords, change them quickly and frequently.

Use a donated or new cell phone:  When making or receiving private calls or arranging escape plans, try not to use a shared or family cell phone because cell phone bill records and phone logs might reveal your plans to an abuser.