“I read your email” used to be a popular system administrators t-shirt. It probably still is. Ever since I started playing system administrator, for home systems, it was one of the things I didn’t do. It’s user data, you don’t touch user data and it’s the way it should be.
Way back in those days, the typical home computers did not have significant user accounts. Stuff was shared, and I do remember one occasion of one of my family member going through our Eudora account and being angry at something I wrote. I don’t even remember what it was, it must have been quite petty. It is then that we separated everything for everyone: everyone got his/hers account, password protected, preferably with the screen saver locking out access. All this even got better when we switched to Windows NT 4.0 and later (the best operating system coming from Redmond, ever) Windows 2000.
It brought fun stuff like, having your own colour scheme, your own wallpaper and you could organize your data as you wanted. The downside was having to log out and the log in when another user wanted to use the machine. I mean, I am talking pre-Windows XP, here. When we did switch over to XP (rather late, SP2 was just released), the “Fast User Switching” feature was one of the biggest arguments. That, and the superior wireless handling.
Why, do I write this? It’s 2014, and I just found out, by reading into the context, that a certain branch of my family uses a shared computer account. Today, around 20 years after we started separating our accounts. They don’t even have the technological hurdles, we used to have! When I pointed them out that this was not a good idea, I got the typical “we have nothing to hide to each other”. Well, neither do I… Not really, at least, but you might need the occasional brain bleach if you do go meddling in my data. For me this is about respect: I respect your part of the computer and you respect mine. Just as I respect your sock drawer and you respect mine. I can look in it, but I won’t. Because I respect you. It’s the same reason, my wife won’t ever take my phone without asking me, and I won’t do that with hers either.
In that sense, it’s about trust: I trust you enough to give you your privacy. I expect the same from you. Let’s say it a bit differently: You may have nothing to hide, but you should still value your privacy. Even from loved ones.
As you see, I don’t even touch on global spying, where the NSA and other governments try to track your every move and violate your privacy continuously. That’s the big picture, but really, you won’t get the big picture if you fail to see the issues within your own four walls with your loved ones.