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On Privacy, Email, and Passwords

By in Culture
Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 10:41:59 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

What happens when things go wrong between you and your roommate/live-in girlfriend/boyfriend/brother/best friend/etc when they go poking through your belongings, or even your computer and read things they weren't supposed to for whatever reason. Is it right for these people to expect your life to be an open book simply by virtue of the relationship they share with you? What can you do in situations like these?

Due to recent events with my live-in girlfriend, she is very unhappy and untrustful of me. Why? She snooped through my computer and broke into my email 'cause she was suspicious. Well you can imagine that if you start looking for evidence, you're bound to come up with something. At the moment I'm taking a break from packing my belongings and such- I'm moving on and out. As much as I love her, I don't, won't, and refuse to share email, passwords, websites I read, and whatever's on my computer. Am I paranoid or overboard? I think not. I don't have anything to hide, but my conversations between my friends, family, and online anonymous persons are between me and them. Has anything similar happened to you? Do you think there's something wrong with NOT sharing email and passwords?


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On Privacy, Email, and Passwords | 33 comments (32 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
It's all part of being in a relationship (4.00 / 2) (#1)
by Lionfire on Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 09:03:55 PM EST

I'm going to have to agree with you on this one. My wife and I have a very trusting relationship and don't tend to keep any secrets from each other (except for what I'm getting her for her birthday in a few weeks :) This doesn't mean that we don't want our privacy sometimes.

She doesn't know any of my passwords and she knows I wouldn't want her looking through my email, files, Netscape history or generally anything in my accounts. We've reached an understanding on the topic, and she's fine with that.

On the other hand, she isn't really fussed about privacy. She tells me all her passwords (even if I don't want to know them) and often asks me to log in and check her email for her. She's just like that in general -- very open and doesn't mind me rummaging though her things.

I think it's a very personal decision between any two people in a relationship. Some people like myself will want -- no, need -- that level of privacy, while others won't. The important factor is that you and your partner agree on such things in advance; not just as an acknowledgement, but as a way of living together in your relationship.

[ blog | cute ]
... an interesting kuro5hin trend ... (4.70 / 6) (#3)
by forrest on Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 10:30:18 PM EST

I see that people posting here for personal advice on "real life" issues that affect geeky people. I like that, actually. If that will be the real distinguishing characteristic of kuro5hin over other sites, I think I will continue to visit.

That's my editorial comment, I have a topical one, too, but I don't want to post a seperate comment for it:

The relationship was over when she lost trust in you enough to begin snooping. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and when it's gone, the relationship is gone.

OTOH, although I certainly respect your position, I can't imagine wanting that level of privacy myself. Well, I don't give my passwords to anyone else, it's true, but if you're that close to me, you can find out any information you might find out with those passwords, just by asking me. Or so I would like to believe. We'll find out if that's really true when my fiancée arrives.

Re: ... an interesting kuro5hin trend ... (none / 0) (#22)
by porovaara on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 03:11:07 PM EST

I concur.

Kuro5hin is small enough and troll free enough to carry on threads such as these. Unlike Slashdot which seems to only care about the computer side of geeks (and ilk) its good to occasionally talk about things that matter when you step away from the computer.

[ Parent ]
Re: ... an interesting kuro5hin trend ... (none / 0) (#31)
by Luke Scharf on Mon Sep 18, 2000 at 04:43:16 PM EST

The relationship was over when she lost trust in you enough to begin snooping. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and when it's gone, the relationship is gone.

Of course, you have to build the trust first.

[ Parent ]
Re: ... an interesting kuro5hin trend ... (none / 0) (#32)
by Luke Scharf on Mon Sep 18, 2000 at 04:48:32 PM EST

The relationship was over when she lost trust in you enough to begin snooping. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and when it's gone, the relationship is gone.

Of course, you have to build the trust first.

[ Parent ]
I had a similar situation... (5.00 / 4) (#4)
by Mr. Penguin on Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 10:53:09 PM EST

My ex-fiance broke our engagement of three years when she went snooping on my computer and found a couple of porno sites at the bottom of my history file. Despite the fact that I had visited those sites over a year before when writing an article on Internet censorship, she wouldn't believe me. I know, you don't really believe me, either, but I really did do an article on Internet censorship, and that's reallywhy I visited the sites.

Now, I had never been one to share passwords with her, using the excuse that as a UNIX administrator, my passwords were too important. But when I left my computer booted into Window$, she easily found my history file and combed through it.

She, however, had always shared her passwords with me, and after we broke our engagement, I took the liberty of reading her e-mail. Sure, that wasn't ethical, by any means, but I figured that if she had violated my privacy, I was entitled to violate hers.

That's when I found out something that I really didn't want to know. She had been cheating on me for almost six months. That also relieved me, though, because I knew then that she had just been looking for a reason to break up with me.

Invasion of privacy is wrong, and I don't condone it. I regret that I ever did it, and not just because I was hurt by the results.

Re: I had a similar situation... (4.00 / 1) (#5)
by Anonymous Hero on Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 11:00:21 PM EST

She was cheating on you, evidence was in her email, and she shared her passwords? Wow, you're much better off, because that girl is dumb!

[ Parent ]
Not necessarily dumb, she was! (5.00 / 1) (#8)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 12:28:16 AM EST

Note that he never took advantage of those passwords until after the breakup, after SHE had irreparably damaged the relationship, trust, etc. She KNEW that he was honorable enough not to snoop. How sly of her, preying on his virtue to conceal her betrayal. (Argh! "Atlas Shrugged" flashback!) It's like one of those Orson Scott Card books says -- evil is more imaginative than good, because evil can think of things that the good cannot.

[ Parent ]
Re: Not necessarily dumb, she was! (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by flyingV on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 12:36:56 AM EST

Hmmmm... nah... Good can think of things just as evil as Evil, if Good really wants to; it's just that Good is too good to use these evil things :) There's a fine line between being trusting and being naive, and I don't think it's possible to learn to truly walk this line. The line varies from relationship to relationship, person to person, place to place. Real life is finicky :)
"Smoke me" - Unknown
[ Parent ]
Good is as Evil (2.00 / 1) (#14)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:51:43 AM EST

(or how to muck with logical semantics?)

So, what type of thing would a good person think up in a situation where they're too honorable to go looking in someone else's email?

I know that I don't snoop around, even when I do have access.

But I find it distressing that she could use that against him - becuase if he did snoop, she could say; and what were you doing snooping in my inbox??

-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

[ Parent ]
Re: I had a similar situation... (none / 0) (#19)
by mattc on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 10:11:59 AM EST

You aren't allowed to look at porno sites when you're dating someone?? That's ridiculous. You are better off without her.

[ Parent ]
These issues... (4.33 / 3) (#6)
by escherIV on Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 11:46:16 PM EST

A good friend of mine recently asked me if I "knew how to hack passwords." (She's not very computer savvy) I said most likely not and asked her why. She said she wanted to read her boyfriend's email to "keep tabs on his ass." Last time she read his email, she flipped on him for TALKING to his ex. Not doing anywith with, just having a nice conversation. I'm still not quite sure what she was so pissed about.

Anyway, the real reason of this little anecdote is to show a good example of why you SHOULDN'T share passwords and such. People are, in general, edgy and paranoid. As the article said, "start looking for evidence, you're bound to come up with something." It's ridiculous to ask a person to share EVERYTHING with you. Human beings need personal space, whether they admit to it or not. If she wants to see everything you do, see how well she'd react to you seeing everything she does. Chances are, she wouldn't like it.

That's the difference between a girlfriend and a w (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Perianwyr on Tue Jul 25, 2000 at 02:44:30 PM EST

A girlfriend is someone in a provisional period. Someone with whom the drawbridges are still up, the goal being to lower them as it is shown that this is what needs to happen.

A wife is someone who you absolutely can't hide things from, because how do you hide things from yourself? You'll end up hurting yourself because of it, and that's how it should be in a good marriage.

Regrettably, too many people seem to get themselves into marriages that are more like boyfriend-girlfriend stuff.

[ Parent ]
This is sticky ground. (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by static on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 12:00:47 AM EST

I can understand keeping something hidden from your closest friend, especially if that's an "unwritten rule" of the situation. But I've also seen the opposite: my (married) parents do not hide things from each other, except sometimes birthday and Christmas presents. It comes down to a kind of trust.


Re: This is sticky ground. (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 09:36:41 AM EST

Since you're old enough to write, your parents have presumably been together a decade or more. There's a lot more basis for trust in a long-term married couple than in a guy and a girl who've known each other for a year and who've been living together for six months. Also, odds are your parents are older than the original poster and his girlfriend, and are presumably more mature and stable.

[ Parent ]
This is a ripoff of an Ask Slashdot question (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 03:16:19 AM EST

I knew this looked familiar - Ask Slashdot posted this exact question on January 16.

So? (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:56:31 AM EST

The only time a question can be asked is the first time it's ever been posted to /.?

Granted, maybe some pro/con arguements should be compiled into a FAQ ;)

People's lives happen to them when they happen. If something is bugging you, you ask the question (sometimes to get pointed to the FAQ). IOW: If having the question asked on /. 6 months ago is too frequent, when *can* you ask the question again? 1 year? 5 years? Never??

-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

[ Parent ]
Re: So? (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by BlacKat on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 08:16:47 AM EST

Yea, but it's the EXACT SAME QUESTION. Worded EXACTLY the same... even the "I'm taking a break to pack" bit, which I doubt he'd be doing twice ;o) Either it's the same person asking twice, or it's someone with a little too much time on thier hands.

[ Parent ]
Ahhh :) (none / 0) (#26)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:42:09 PM EST

Silly me, I don't always follow links in people's posts - otherwise I would have seen that it was *exactly* the same.

Granted, either he's a loser (unattributed stealing of text/laziness), or he's doing a pysch/soc study (formal or informal).

But, otherwise question still stands: What's the frequency allowed for questions?

-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

[ Parent ]
Re: So? (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by Louis_Wu on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 12:39:42 PM EST

It could be that the submitter was having personal problems and wanted to see what the K5 crowd would say, having already seen what the /. crowd had said. Maybe the AH wants to go snooping, and wants advice on whether that's OK. Maybe the AH is suspicious of his SO, or has a friend who is having problems.

This seems like a rather scientific way of getting opinions from a different crowd, ask the exact question which was asked at /.

"The power to tax is the power to destroy."
John Marshal, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
[ Parent ]

Re: So? (none / 0) (#25)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:16:44 PM EST

Like BlacKat says, it's the same exact question word-for-word. It's quite obvious that submitter was aware of the posting on slashdot and, just to be ethical, they should have stated this fact when submitting the article.

All the submitter had to do was mention that the same question was asked before in some other site, and they wanted to get a second opinion. The fact that this wasn't pointed out looks very suspicious.

Heh, if this is the same guy who originally posted the article, and this is how he usually behaves irl, I don't blame his girlfriend for being suspicious too.

[ Parent ]

Re: This is a ripoff of an Ask Slashdot question (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by Rasputin on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 03:59:49 PM EST

And why should that bother those of us who no longer visit the 'Other Site'? It's a prefectly valid question and it seems to be spawning at least some discussion.

More importantly, why would someone assume that if it was there, we don't want it here? Is there an implied assumption that the people here also read the stories there? Or is this whole post neither here nor there?

My head hurts now, so I'll just quietly go away...;)
Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.
[ Parent ]

Passwords are keys that you can't give back (4.50 / 4) (#11)
by bignose on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 03:33:36 AM EST

On the occasions I've been nagged by any LPOTPM (life partner of the present moment) to tell my passwords, I've used an analogy that seemed to explain it sufficiently:

Yes, I give you the keys to my house. Yes, a password is like a key. But unlike a key, you can't give it back to me if anything goes bad. It's more like a perfect fake fingerprint, facemask, or whatever, that lets you not only enter places I go, but to *pretend to be me while you're there*. It's not just a key, it's a way of assuming my identity.

That gives her something to think about, if nothing else, so that I have enough time to make up her own account on whatever service she wants to use :-) Sure, I know that you can change a password if it's compromised; but in many ways that's even more trouble than changing the locks on your house. At least your house locks are all in one place and can all be done at once; I tend to use the same passwords on various systems, and to remember which ones I need to change would be very onerous.

Bottom line: yes, it's private, and not all private things are for sharing, even with your closest loved one. If it's not between you and her, it's your call whether she gets to know.

Multiple Accounts, Same Password (none / 0) (#17)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 09:31:54 AM EST

I tend to use the same passwords on various systems, and to remember which ones I need to change would be very onerous.

Dangerous idea. A better one is to use a different password everywhere. Write down the location, account name, and password in a text file and encrypt the text file.

[ Parent ]
Trust (4.00 / 2) (#12)
by Fish on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:15:11 AM EST

For any relationship to work, there has to be trust. If she can't trust you enough not to delve through your private things, then she's the one who hasn't enough trust to sustain the relationship. It's her fault, not yours.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with not sharing e-mail or passwords! My brother gets really irritated when he walks into the computer room at my parent's house and my dad goes "oh, dave wants to know if you can go out tonight", cos he's read the e-mail.

Also, the person writing the e-mail is trusting *you* to keep the e-mail private. It's FYEO (for your eyes only).

I remember telling someone that I'd broken up with my boyfriend a few years ago, and I didn't want it to reach the ears of someone I didn't like. Well, her boyfriend was looking over her shoulder while she was reading my e-mail, and subsequently told the very person I didn't want to know! It's just not on!

Relationships need limits (none / 0) (#13)
by 4gapa on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:35:35 AM EST

All relationships need limits. My wife never had access to my passwords, PGP keys, passphrases, or account numbers. If she had, our divorce could have been much nastier. As it stands, all her personal files that were on my computer have been zipped, PGP encrypted, and stored offline as insurance of her continued good behavior.

Keep this in mind when you decide it would be cool to "do a little porno" with that new camcorder or digital camera.

Remember, the Internet is forever.

different people, different arrangements (4.66 / 3) (#20)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 10:24:38 AM EST

Briefly, myself and my wife have it pretty open. Most information, especially to do with computer accounts, etc., is there for the other to look at if they want to. Sometimes it's beneficial that the other person know what you've written to a mutual friend, so we check out sent emails that were written on behalf of us both.

That said, there are a number of people that would confide in me and request that whatever was discussed go no further than I. In this case, I would most certainly keep the information secure and take steps to ensure it remained as such.

BTW, my wife has a bit of a problem with me going through her wallet, where she keeps photos and a whole lot of other stuff, even if I'm just looking for a bit of cash or whatever (something harmless). She knows it is harmless, but is still uncomfortable. I think this is something to do with her family, and how everybody had their own wallets and it was pretty much understood that each person's wallet was private, no-go territory.

The key here folks, is understanding, and not necessarily an absolutely equal arrangement. I now understand why my wife needs a bit more privacy with her wallet, and to be honest, it doesn't worry me as long as I can get some cash or whatever if I need it. So now I just ask and that's OK, whereas before I didn't ask and it wasn't.

As for me, I couldn't give a toss if she spent 15 minutes going through my wallet each day. In fact, it would be useful because she could clean out all the pesky bills, vouchers, and other crap that I build up there over time :-)

Be cool and honest folks, and if you're not going to be honest, don't be dumb about it :-)

Trust? (2.00 / 2) (#24)
by aphrael on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:06:39 PM EST

It's an interesting comment on the level of trust involved, at the very least. There are a couple of people whose passwords I know (shared accounts on online games; shared root access; etc) --- but I'd never use them to snoop on their email. Having the power to do something doesn't mean it's right to do it ... A friend of mine used security holes in our corporate mail system once to break into his girlfriend's email and find out she had been cheating on him ... oops. he couldn't even confront her about it (without admitting what he'd done), and it ate him apart for months.

Re: Trust? (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by Dr. Zowie on Mon Jul 24, 2000 at 04:44:07 PM EST

Hee hee... Couldn't help commenting on the delicious irony of the headline:
  Trust? (none)
in the above.

The more things change the more they stay the same. A buddy of mine got divorced after peeping in his wife's pressed-and-dried-trees diary and finding out she'd been cheating on him for a surprisingly long time, in surprisingly blatant ways. The switch to electronic media doesn't change the underlying moral issues -- just the technical trappings. In the old days, we'd be asking if it's OK to go through someone's files or boxes of correspondence.

Information online is no different than any other information that's outside your head: if it has to stay secret, don't put it there!

[ Parent ]

If you're dealing with someone you trust.. (none / 0) (#28)
by lpontiac on Tue Jul 25, 2000 at 12:51:08 AM EST

.. then this shouldn't be a problem. I had problems forwarding an email to a close friend the other day (her ISP's mail server was down) so I just gave her my password and had her log in to my mail server to read it. I trust her not to go abusing that password to read up on my mail (and no, I don't plan to bother changing the password).

It's like driving on the wrong side of the road... (none / 0) (#30)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue Jul 25, 2000 at 07:38:35 PM EST

This is a lot like which side of the road you drive on - it really doesn't matter if you "give each other some private space separate from your communal space as a couple" or "have no secrets from each other" AS LONG AS EVERYONE KNOWS (and agrees to) WHAT THE RULES ARE!

Take care of that, and the questions being asked shift from questions about reactions to specific behavior to the more fundamental questions of the relationship.

Ever hear of encryption? (none / 0) (#33)
by craigmswanson on Wed Sep 20, 2000 at 04:41:18 PM EST

Get yourself a copy of GPG and encrypt every text file on your computer. After that, you won't have to worry about who is reading your private files. It isn't a matter of trust, it's a matter of security.
--My CueCat ate my karma
On Privacy, Email, and Passwords | 33 comments (32 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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