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Is Facebook Your Password Manager?

August 28, 2016

If you had as many credit cards as you do online accounts, you’d walk around with a backpack in place of a wallet. Seriously, every time you get a digital subscription or shop online, you have to set up another account and remember another password, and it can drive you crazy. So it’s really tempting when sites offer to let you use your Facebook, Twitter, or social media accounts as a login, but do you ever wonder whether it’s safe? Well, you should wonder. Even experts don’t agree.

The reason so many websites allow you to use social media accounts as logins is because they get instant access to your personal information, which helps them or their advertisers try to sell you something. That’s not necessarily bad. They’re going to try to sell to you anyway, and if you set up a whole new account with them, they’ll just start gathering information about you on their own systems. At least if you use an existing login, you have one less password to remember. And since hacking of popular websites is a growing problem, some experts say you’re better off having personal information living in fewer online places.

The flip side of that argument is that your social media accounts have a lot of personal information that other sites couldn’t get otherwise, including information about your friends and family. Using your social login as a login for other sites means that hackers could get access to a lot of personal information about you from more places.

So here are some things to think about the next time you’re considering reusing a login:

  • How much do you trust the website where you’re setting up the new account? Sure, anyone can be hacked, but the New York Times or Chase Bank has a bigger cyber-security budget than the newest little news or culture feed site.
  • When did you last check your privacy settings on the social media account you want to reuse? Sites like Facebook change privacy policies and controls all the time. You can use them to limit what another website can access, but you have to stay on top of the changes to keep your account safe.
  • Can you use the social media account to revoke access from other web sites? Google, for example, lets you control access from one place, and that can be a big plus. If you’re using your Google account for a login on SugarBuzz, for example, and you hear that SugarBuzz has had a data breach, you can go to your Google account and just shut off access from that site. (Full disclosure: you can’t really create an account on SugarBuzz.com. We just liked the name. But they are some of the marketing geniuses behind MadLibs and Hello Kitty.)

Like so many things in life, how you use your social media accounts is a personal choice. And like your mom said, it’s important to make good choices. Be safe out there.

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