Images: Aram Bartholl
If you've forgotten your LinkedIn password, you could always do the account reset thing. Or you could ask the artist Aram Bartholl to find it for you—there's a good chance he'll have it on file. If he does, he's likely in the process of putting it on public display in a museum in Europe somewhere.
Earlier this year, it was London. Most recently, it was a university in Germany. Wherever it is, Bartholl is opening up his eight white, plainly printed binders full of the 4.7 million user passwords that were pilfered from the social network and made public by a hacker last year. He brings the books to his exhibits, called 'Forgot Your Password', where you're free to see if he's got your data—and whether anyone else who wanders through is entirely capable of logging onto your account and making Connections with unsavory people. In fact, Bartholl insists:
"These eight volumes contain 4.7 million LinkedIn clear text user passwords printed in alphabetical order," the description of his project reads. "Visitors are invited to look up their own password."
He's probably got mine. I have an account on LinkedIn that I access a couple times a month to click the big yellow Accept button when prompted by all kinds of people I've never met nor will likely ever hear from again. If I lost my password, or got signed out somehow, it'd probably be months before I bothered to request a new one. As such, I certainly never changed my password in the wake of last year's hacking event.
This is kind of Bartholl's point: we maintain a half-ignorant, mostly cavalier attitude towards things like social media profile security—we just assume hackers and stolen passwords won't effect us, and usually, they don't. Your LinkedIn password is probably in this guy's binder, after all, and nothing's happened to you yet.
Or maybe it has. Two million more accounts were just hacked this week, and the media wants you to be sure yours wasn't one of them. And that's an interesting question reared here: what does it mean, exactly, that your personal information has been open to the public for over a year now? After all, we're outraged that the NSA might have it stored somewhere too—we're not wrong to be, either—but the dissonance between that anger and our lack of interest in where our passwords and data are at any given time is worth exploring.
We're not just constantly forgetting the awkward combination of numbers and letters that constitute our passwords themselves. We forget to consider how we use them, who might be looking at them, and why they're important.