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I didn't realize this was a thing until I was a moderator, but we get more people than I expected who post a question that they later regret due to divulging too much personal information. We often have to contact a community manager to resolve this, and even then, there's nothing we can do about information that gets indexed by search engines or screenshotted or whatever.

It might be useful to post a warning to this effect when people are about to post a question. I think this concern is somewhat unique to this site. Do other people think this is a good idea? If so, what form should it take?

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  • @RoryAlsop While this happens across the network, this is a special case in that most of the information posted is of a personal nature, and thus anything that is sensitive is so on a much more intimate and private level than, for instance, posting a trade secret in code on Stack Overflow. So while a general discussion might be useful and instructive, I believe this site would have a greater personal impact on someone due to the nature of the site than most other sites. A trade secret on SO might have a lifetime measured in years, but a personal item here may last a lifetime.
    – Adam Davis
    Mar 20, 2015 at 14:30
  • Adam - I've moved my comments to an answer - it was getting a bit long
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Mar 20, 2015 at 15:10

4 Answers 4

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This actually happens right across the SE network. Different kinds of sensitive data including personal info, intellectual property, security configs etc.

What I mean by that is that it is equally important on various sites. I certainly wouldn't want to argue whether personal information was more or less important than eg a security config which may protect the personal data of thousands of clients! We should just assume that there is some data that should not be posted on SE sites, and that data could include personal information, trade secrets, configurations, code etc. so any proposed solution should be implementable anywhere.

My concern is that at the end of the day, it's up to the individual to decide what information they want to post. If SE takes too much control over this they will be seen as policing the data flow, and as such:

  • a) could be held responsible
  • b) will be seen as intruding even more into the freedom of the individual

Instead of trying to suggest technical controls, I'd propose adding a paragraph onto the About page that all new members see that discusses the implications of posting your private info on the Internet

Relevant discussion on meta so far:

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I agree that the issue is one of understanding. People come here hoping for help without understanding how big the community is, nor how well the information here propagates. I believe most speak generally enough, post only that which is relevant, or post anonymously enough that it doesn't matter, but you will always have some who expect they can get an answer, then somehow erase that they ever asked, and find that it's not possible due to the design of the site.

Unfortunately nobody reads: http://blog.codinghorror.com/treating-user-myopia/

Stack Exchange has, largely successfully I think, worked hard to design the interface so that users naturally know what they need to know in order to do the right thing: http://blog.codinghorror.com/the-just-in-time-theory/

So rather than posting a notice which no one will read, it's probably worth thinking about how the user interface is currently designed and why it's making people feel safe to divulge personal, intimate information to a public website.

I don't know the answer to that question, but I think the answer to your question is, "We shouldn't use a warning, we should change the interface so a warning becomes unnecessary."

That, however, is probably worth bringing up on Meta.SE, though I believe the problem is more critical here.

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It seems to me there are two types of sensitive information. Things that should never be posted and things you don't want associated with you. It would be nice to be able to mask your user ID for certain things that you wouldn't want employers, for example, knowing about you if they were to deduce your user ID here. (Many people use their real names!) Moderators could still see the user ID and rep could still apply to prevent abuse.

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  • "Moderators could still see the user ID and rep could still apply to prevent abuse." I'm not sure I understand this statement. Can you explain further?
    – anongoodnurse Mod
    Apr 15, 2015 at 6:49
  • It means that nobody could see the user ID except for moderators. (You can't hide from them) Down-votes, up-votes etc. would still go to the user "behind the mask" as it were and affect their rep. The only change would be that the ID is obscured from non-moderator users.
    – Necreaux
    Apr 15, 2015 at 11:56
-2

One option that might be worth considering on a site specific basis (like other plugins, such as latex) would be to implement a list of words that, if found in the post, upon submitting would popup a dialog that provides a reminder that this post is going to be public, and once published might not be easy or quick to remove.

I expect Stack Exchange could go through the posts that have been deleted over the years and pick out words that might suggest a post is sensitive. Names of specific illnesses, abuses, illegal activities, etc.

It would be interesting at a minimum to go through the deleted questions and see if there are heuristics that could be applied in any case, and this could direct whether such a feature could prove useful.

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