Sound Familiar? Characteristics of Password Sharers

5 factors involved in password sharing

Posted Mar 24, 2019

You probably know that it’s a bad idea to share your online passwords. Sharing passwords can result identity theft, financial theft, and fraud. Nevertheless, many people share passwords for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look at five examples of people most likely to share passwords.

1. Age. In a survey-based study involving 497 participants (295 men; mean age, 41.86 years), Monica Whitty, James Doodson, Sadie Creese, and Duncan Hodges found that younger respondents were more likely to share their passwords as compared with older people. The researchers originally hypothesized that younger people would be less likely to share passwords and thus offered possible explanations for this counterintuitive finding. For instance, younger users may use the Internet more extensively and have a larger base of online family and friends to share passwords with. Additionally, younger users may share passwords of accounts that are not as sensitive, such as photo-sharing services on social media.

Source: everythingpossible/123RF

2. Knowledge.  Whitty and colleagues hypothesized that younger users, who are more Internet savvy, would be less likely to share passwords because they are more knowledgeable about the repercussions of this practice. Knowledge, however, has little to do with the practice of password sharing, according to their findings. People who are knowledgeable of the consequences of sharing passwords still do it.

3. Perseverance. Whitty and co-authors suggested that personality may play a minor role in decisions to share passwords. They found that perseverance, which measures the ability to remain engaged in a task until completion, was the only personality variable that was linked to lower password sharing among participants. Self-monitoring, which refers to the ability to observe and regulate behaviors, was not linked to password sharing. Having an internal locus of control, or feeling that things can be controlled by one’s behavior, was not linked to password sharing either.

4. Close relations. According to the results of a survey of 122 participants (62 men), Joseph Kay found that one-third of respondents shared their email passwords, and one-fourth shared their Facebook passwords with either partners or close friends.

5. Work. Kay found that 20% of respondents shared work email passwords with colleagues.

Information from these studies can be used for two purposes. First, this data can inform the creation of public service campaigns intended to stop password sharing. Lack of knowledge, for instance, would not be a focus of such campaigns, because despite knowledge of identity theft, people still share passwords, Second, this data could be used to promote safer practices for password sharing. Sharing a password with a long-time spouse, for instance, may be safer than sharing it with a friend you’ve known only for a few months.