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Kids Violate #1 Rule of Internet Safety

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Pretty much every online service that requires a password comes with warnings against “sharing your password with anyone.” Often, these warnings are in all caps and are followed by statements like “an employee of company x will never ask for your password.” According to an article in the New York Times, they’re also often ignored.

The article describes the burgeoning—if somewhat questionable—trend of young people giving their significant others or best friends their Facebook, Gmail (GOOG), AOL Instant Messenger (AOL) and other passwords. When asked about the potential reputation and identity consequences involved, many respondents said that the risks only made the gesture more meaningful.

The trouble is, many of the young adults and teenagers quoted in the article reported at least one instance where giving out their password caused them trouble. Stories range from the obvious privacy invasions—emails, private messages read—to more sordid, if still predicable, instances of secrets spread and reputations ruined.

In spite of these very avoidable risks, a recent Pew survey found that 30% of online teenagers had shared their password with someone. One parent suggested that the kids did so because adults told them it was a bad idea.

Meanwhile, Gizmodo writer Sam Biddle is quoted saying that he has never met a couple that have shared passwords and not regretted it. In a recent article for the website, he made it clear that the only password it’s OK to share is Netflix.

Of course, recent security breaches at sites like Zappos and eBay (EBAY) imply that someone may not need to sleep with you to get your password. Yesterday, the Times Bits Blog provided a bit more detail on security breaches at shopping sites around the web.

These attacks, which have also hit sites like Amazon (AMZN), should be a cause for concern amongst online shoppers. Many consumers found the response to security issues by site officials to be severely lacking.

The major issue is that customers often use the same or similar user names and logins across different websites. A hacked company can reset its own passwords, but it can’t change customer passwords on other sites. Ultimately, it falls on customers to protect their information.

So, while it’s a hassle to think up more than one password—and also, apparently, to not turn around and give it to all your friends—it might be worthwhile to work a bit harder on online passwords. That, or stop shopping online.
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