Emily Taffel still shares several logins to streaming services with...

Emily Taffel still shares several logins to streaming services with her ex-husband, Ryan Cohen, left, and a former boyfriend, Sam Rubman, right.  Credit: AP/Ryan Cohen

Emily Taffel didn't pull the password plug when she divorced her first husband, and she didn't cut off the boyfriend who followed. Now remarried with four stepchildren, she continues as a model of civility when it comes to exes and logins.

The 41-year-old in Coral Springs, Florida, and her first husband didn't have kids, much money or own a house when they divorced. What they did have were subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu.

"We each paid for one of them and share. That was literally our divorce agreement," Taffel said. "It was written right in there. We're still doing it."

When boyfriend Sam came along but the romance ended three years later, they maintained close ties and joint custody of additional services, sharing logins and the cost to this day among themselves and Taffel's ex-husband. Taffel and her current husband have added more and shared down the line over a decade after her first marriage ended.

"I know it seems crazy," she said. "The ex-boyfriend and the ex-husband aren't friends, but through me everybody is very amicable."

In this era of cybersecurity concerns and calls for multifactor lockdown of all things digital, that approach points to an often-thorny issue when love goes wrong: What to do about the logins?

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans who are in a relationship share passwords across nearly every digital platform, ranging from social media to email and cellphone to mobile wallets, said Harold Li, vice president of the encryption service ExpressVPN.

"In the digital era, sharing passwords is a sign of trust and affection akin to the gift of a letterman jacket or an exchange of school locker combinations," he said. "However, while it may seem like a romantic gesture at the moment, it poses serious risks to your personal privacy, which even the closest of relationships need."

And when relationships end, whether romantic or of the friendship variety, he recommends a thorough "digital divorce."

Nick Leighton of the etiquette podcast "Were You Raised by Wolves" equates the changing of shared passwords after a breakup to returning the sweater left behind by the ex.

"Be mindful of the fact that when a person discovers their login no longer works, it’ll be a clear reminder that the relationship is indeed over, which may cause hurt feelings," he said. "It should also be noted that sharing passwords might possibly violate the terms of service."

Things don't always go swimmingly when logins aren't cut off post-breakup.

"Change the password. In the age of perpetual watch histories being widely available, nobody wants to know that their ex just watched `The Notebook' on Netflix. It stirs up all sorts of emotions," said John Capo, an assistant professor of communications at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

"Were they thinking about me when they watched it? Who did they watch it with? Why were they awake at midnight, anyway? Remember when we used to watch `The Notebook?' "

Brian Penny, 40, in Tucson, Arizona, doesn't have the heart to leave an ex out in the cold on his HBO Max and Hulu accounts.

"She's struggling with work and it doesn't cost me anything, but it does show her name because she added herself as a profile," he said. "I do wonder what the next girlfriend will think about seeing another woman's name in my account. I've already reasoned I would say it's a cousin or friend."

Hari Ravichandran, founder and CEO of the digital safety provider Aura, noted the prevalence of password sharing among some, but warned against it.

"It’s no secret that password-sharing is a way for consumers to get around the cost of paying for multiple services," he said in a statement. "What consumers aren’t considering is that these behaviors make them vulnerable to digital crime when people outside your household — even ones you trust — have your passwords on their devices."

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