Letters from Japan: “He Wants My Passwords For Everything”

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
August 20, 2021
Ask Hilary

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com with the subject "Ask Hilary."

Hi Hilary.

I started dating a Japanese guy I met on Tinder this spring. We’ve only been dating for a short time, but he’s a really loving, sweet guy for the most part. My main issue is with his hang-ups about social media and my phone in particular. Part of my job is social media-related, so I spend a lot of time on different apps and sites keeping an eye on trends and researching the competition. My boyfriend demanded to know my phone’s PIN and the passwords for the apps I use. He says because of how we met, he’s afraid of me still using apps to meet men behind his back, which I guess I can understand? He told me that if I really loved him I would be okay with sharing the details with him even though it’s work-related since he’s willing to share all his passwords. I refused, but sometimes if I leave my phone to go to the bathroom, I come back to find it unlocked or locked but with an app open that I wasn’t using beforehand. It doesn’t happen all the time when we’re together, but it’s making me paranoid that he’s somehow hacked my phone. What should I do?


Dear SOS,

I’m sorry but the sheer number of red flags in your email has my head spinning. 

One of the first things I learned way back in primary school when computer science was first introduced was to never, ever give anyone your password under any circumstance. I can still remember my teacher saying that anyone who demands your password isn’t your friend. Your boyfriend obviously never learned that lesson.

Not only that, he’s treating his issues with social media as being your fault—which they aren’t. His fears about you meeting other men online stem from his own insecurities and his use of “if you really loved me”-style arguments speak volumes about his maturity level.

He’s trying to manipulate you into doing what he wants and that right there should be a sign to take a step back and rethink this relationship. You have been dating since the spring and he’s disregarding your boundaries, claiming that it’s not love if you don’t do a particular thing he wants and accusing you of cheating on him enough that you’re starting to question yourself?

This is not a healthy relationship and I highly doubt that he is a genuinely sweet, loving guy. He sounds abusive, to put it plainly, and you need to take care of yourself before he escalates things any further.

…he’s treating his issues with social media as being your fault—which they aren’t.

You’re not responsible for his mental well-being and it isn’t your job to “fix him.” If his only arguments as to why he needs your confidential information are because he doesn’t trust you to be faithful, then there isn’t a legitimate reason you should be dating him. Relationships are built on mutual trust and communication—and he lacks both of those.

Another possibility is that his constant fears of you cheating on him are his subconscious anxiety over cheating on you—again, it’s not your job as his girlfriend to give up all your privacy and personal information to make him feel better. This is the kind of relationship that you should end as cleanly and safely as possible for the sake of your own mental health and well being.

The fact that you’ve found your phone in different circumstances than you left it is worrying. If he has hacked it as you say, then he’s probably already looked through, copied or done whatever else he wants to with your social media and apps.

…it’s not your job as his girlfriend to give up all your privacy and personal information to make him feel better.

Since you use it mainly for work, is this your personal phone or one provided by the company that he’s demanding access to? Either way, he has absolutely zero right to its contents, but if it’s one provided by your work then you could consult with your IT department or your boss about getting a new device or improving security, at the very least.

If it is your personal phone, then there are a few things you need to check and change. You should look up your phone’s make and model and become acquainted with what its standard apps are, as well as those provided by your phone service provider.

Are any of the apps on your phone new or not something you recognize as having always been part of your phone? If so, look them up from your computer and try to find out what they do. Anything that seems out of place or has been recently added without your permission, uninstall it immediately. If it is crucial for your phone’s use, the phone itself will tell you that you need said app for a given function.

…you could consult with IT/your boss about getting a new device or improving security.

Is your location being tracked? Some apps only track when in use, others track constantly, but you can control these settings from your phone’s menu. Look into those settings and if you don’t want to be tracked, turn them off. The same goes for your photos: are they being tagged with your location or not?

Do you have emails or messages in your junk/trash folders that you don’t remember receiving or sending? Check them carefully as he could have been sending himself personal information, photos and other private data from your phone.

I don’t know how many apps you use, but if you have let say four to five social media apps on your phone, then you’ve got some work ahead of you in order to change all your passwords, enable two-factor authorization and update all your security settings. Every single password should be unique and impossible to randomly guess based on information about you (no birthdays or pet names). Friends who have had similar issues say that the best way to make sure you are the only one with access to any recovery data on your accounts is to make a new Gmail address (do not give it to anyone) and have all authorization emails, password reset requests and so on be sent to that address.

…change all your passwords, enable two-factor authorization, and update all your security settings.

According to friends who work for Apple and Android, the best way to ensure that your phone is completely free from possible tracking apps and the like is to do a factory reset of your phone. Personally speaking, I would take my phone in to the store and get it professionally reset, just in case, or an update if your finances and/or phone plan allows for it.

Once it’s all brand new software-wise, you can reinstall your known apps with their new passwords and authorizations. Last but not least, depending on what model phone you use, you should set up a new PIN and/or use the fingerprint lock or facial recognition, if you can.

The bottom line though, if you have to go through all of those steps just so you can look at social media sites safely—you should not be with this guy. He’s crossed a lot of hard boundaries and doesn’t trust you, so there’s no reason why you should put yourself through all this stress.

Best of luck.

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