Do you share an email address with your spouse?

Those of us in the technology world – call us nerds, geeks or software developers – expect a 1:1 ratio between personal email addresses and people.

I’m not talking about business or workgroup addresses. I mean your home, non-business address, which might come from your cable TV company, DSL or wireless provider, or from a free email service like Google’s Gmail, Microsoft’s Hotmail, Yahoo, India’s Rediffmail and so-on.

Many people (like myself) have dozens of personal email addresses. Some current, some legacy, some active, some dormant, some used for friends and family, some used for buying things online, some used for subscribing to newsgroups, some totally forgotten. So, yes, it’s not really a 1:1 ratio; it’s 1:many, but here “many” means many addresses, not many people.

For techies, you can safely assume that a personal email address is like a personal cellular phone number. All my personal email addresses are for me. My wife has her own personal email addresses. There are no shared addresses.

I would venture that most of you receiving this blog also view email addresses and email messages as personal, not shared. Yet I’m continually astonished at how many families share one personal email address, just like they share one home phone number. Jack and Jill Smith might use the shared address email hidden; JavaScript is required or email hidden; JavaScript is required or email hidden; JavaScript is required, and that’s the sole non-business address they have.

This seems to be a generational divide. My parents share one email address. I see a lot of shared personal email addresses in the directories of several non-profit organizations and even in my son’s school parents directory. The divide seems to be somewhere north of 50 years old:

• Over 70 years old, the spouses most likely share one address. It’s probably from AOL or their Internet service provider.

• Under 50 years old, it’s almost certainly not a shared address, and it’s probably not from AOL or the ISP. But I know many exceptions.

• Between 50 and 70 years old, it could go either way, but it’s more likely to be personal than shared, and is more likely to be from the ISP.

Why is this relevant? Many of us assume that a non-business address is a one-person email address, and therefore is suitable for receiving confidential information. That can be a false assumption — even with couples under 50 years old.

Also, what happens if both spouses try to create accounts on a website that uses an email address as the registration key? Registration systems increasingly rely upon the email address as an unique identifier associated with one, and only one, person.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick
1 reply
  1. davearonson
    davearonson says:

    Even with if you assume (and you know what happens then!) that address:person is 1:1, it’s still a horribly bad thing to base the registration on. Many people *change* addresses once in a while. This is almost as dumb as one web site I know, where it’s all based on your name — if someone changes their name for whatever reason (like oh say women getting married often do), kiss all that user’s history goodbye.

    Either let them select a unique username, or assign them an ID number behind the scenes. Or both. Hook everything to that. Let them change their other assorted info as often as they like.

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