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You'll happily share your Netflix password, but there are risks

Sometimes it feels good to be bad -- until you pay the price.

James Martin/CNET

Most of you probably won't admit to this unsafe behavior, but plenty of you say you would do it.

This high-risk activity so many of you are eager to try: sharing your password.

Seventy-one percent of people said they would consider sharing a password with a spouse or partner, according to a SurveyMonkey Audience poll shared exclusively with CNET and to be published later this week. More than a third of respondents were willing to quit a streaming service, such as Netflix or HBO, if the company used artificial intelligence to stop password sharing.

"It was almost like they felt entitled to share," said Jillesa Gebhardt, the research scientist at SurveyMonkey who conducted the survey.

Other data in the survey bears that out. People who knew they had previously been caught up in a data breach were even more likely to be willing to share their bank passwords -- at 46 percent -- than people who said they hadn't had data breached. Only 41 percent of people who didn't think they'd lost data in a breach said they would share bank passwords.

We've just found too many good reasons to share our passwords. Why pay for Netflix and Hulu when you can just pay for one service while a friend or family member pays for the other one? Swap those passwords and you're good to go. And other behaviors are just convenient, like letting everyone in the family use the same Target or Amazon account.  

Our unstoppable desire to share serves as a great example of the ways cybersecurity tips often don't make sense in the everyday lives of internet users. Those tips can be onerous, like typing in an extra code from an authenticator app or using physical tokens to log in. Who's got time for that when you want to binge watch The Magicians?

What's more, big data breaches like the ones that hit Equifax in 2017 and the US Office of Personnel Management in 2015 don't happen because we share our email passwords with our spouses. That makes it hard to see why we should bother.

That's why it needs to get easier for users to share accounts safely.

Reasons you should keep it to yourself

Only 16 percent of people polled by SurveyMonkey said they actually share their passwords. It might be a lot more than that, which makes a lot of sense. It's convenient, even it if isn't safe. And, of course, it can raise the sometimes fraught question of whether you trust your spouse or partner.

Even if you have no reason to worry about your significant other's trustworthiness, it's still a bad practice. Here's why: It doubles the number of people who could expose your password to hackers.

Now playing: Watch this: Keep your data secure with a password manager

Sharing your password also makes it harder for online services to protect you with special software that tracks your typing and mouse movement, which alerts them when a stranger enters your password.

The practice is particularly unsafe because so many -- just over half, according to SurveyMonkey -- reuse passwords. You might think you're just sharing your Amazon password, but you've forgotten it's also your work email password.

"Today, we use passwords for both business and personal use, and because so many people share or reuse the same passwords, it puts both personal and business data at risk," said Brent Williams, chief information security officer at SurveyMonkey.

To share is human

Sharing your password is also human, and sometimes it's the only logical thing to do.

You can decide for yourself what you would and wouldn't share. When your finances are combined, it might make sense to share bank, Netflix and Prime accounts.

Sharing the password for other personal accounts isn't appealing to everyone, but 31 percent of respondents said they would share social media passwords and 29 percent said they would share personal email passwords.

People under the age of 35 were the worst offenders on the social media front, with 39 percent saying they would share those passwords.

Clearly, this is something you want to do, and telling you it's not safe isn't stopping you.

Take care when sharing

Companies know sharing is a problem, which is why it makes sense for them to encourage safer sharing. For example, Amazon allows you to share your Prime benefits with another adult, and add children, through Amazon Household. You get to keep your own password.

Banks and credit card companies enable this option for shared accounts, too.

Finally, password sharing would be safer if users were more careful about not reusing passwords. The solution to this one involves more work for you: use a password manager. That's an app that helps you create and store unique passwords for all your accounts.

This isn't a popular option at the moment, with 21 percent of people saying they use one. But if you want to share safely, it's your best bet.

Security:  Stay up-to-date on the latest in breaches, hacks, fixes and all those cybersecurity issues that keep you up at night. 

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