"I'll show you mine if you show me yours" used to mean something risqué between two kids in love. Now, according to The New York Times, it implies something more revealing but less exciting: Swapping passwords. A recent Pew survey found that 30 percent of teenagers — and 47 percent of girls age 14-17— who use the internet have shared at least one personal online password with a friend or significant other. While such swaps can lead volatile and vulnerable teens to use humiliating online secrets against each other, young lovers aren't deterred. Exchanging email and Facebook passwords with her boyfriend is "a sign of trust," San Francisco high schooler Tiffany Carandang, 17, tells The Times. "I know he'd never do anything to hurt my reputation." Ooof. How dangerous is the new pressure to swap passwords?
Password sharing is "a spectacularly bad idea": You have to admit, "there is something pure and romantic about the idea of sharing everything," says Kashmir Hill at Forbes. But letting your boyfriend read all your emails is, like Romeo and Juliet, romantic "in a tragic, horrible, everyone-is-miserable-and-dies-at-the-end kind of way." It may seem like a show of trust, but handing over the keys to your online privacy vault is "mutually assured trust destruction." Sex? Go ahead. But "kids, but I urge you to consider digital abstinence."
"Why sharing passwords... is a spectacularly bad idea"
But it's easy to see why teens do this: In a "horrifyingly sad" way, "pre-marital password sharing" is actually kind of like teen sex, says Cassie Murdoch at Jezebel. "They're both forbidden, frowned upon by adults, and make you feel vulnerable." And teenagers know the risks, at least theoretically, but they still do it, "for the same reason teenagers do most anything, for the thrill." Besides, the kids have a point: In the fire of young love, exposing your online self so completely "is kind of a big deal."
"Sharing passwords is the new teen sex"
Clearly, we need better protection for online accounts: "Teenagers are hardly experienced enough to make good decisions" about love and passwords, says Michael Santo at Examiner. And they certainly won't heed the warnings of their elders — teens all think they're smarter than their parents, maybe because "every tween/teen show" on TV "shows parents as complete idiots." So if we can't eliminate password-sharing, maybe we should kill passwords in favor of something less swappable, like biometrics (fingerprints, iris recognition, and other physical means of identification).
"Password sharing becomes the new teen 'promise ring'"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Russia's giant spy ship was a high-tech disaster waiting to happen
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- America created the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Meet the ISIS 'truthers'
- How American businessmen are ruining American business — and the U.S. economy
- The Obama era is over. The presidency continues.
- On ISIS, neocons and liberal hawks have a 'boy who cried wolf' problem
- 10 things you need to know today: September 2, 2014
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
- How to stop misogynists from terrorizing the world of gamers
Subscribe to the Week