8

Usually, experienced users have to ask OPs to add more details to their questions, so that the community can better answer them. But sometimes, not every detail is absolutely crucial.

And sometimes, I wonder if it is not better to modify posts in such a way, that details, that are not that important, are modified to (at least) become a bit more vague. After all, the posts are open to the public and everyone can read them.

So, should we protect well-meaning OPs from providing so much information, that people who know some facts about them, can draw conclusions from questions posted here?

This question was mainly triggered by this post, where we get a lot of detailed information, like the exact age of one of the involved persons or financial details. There is some possibility, that acquaintances, friends, relatives or even persons mentioned in the text, find it and put one and one together.

In such cases, would it be appropriate to, for example, change the age to "in his late 20ties", "in his 20ties" or even "adult"/"grown-up" or the like?

As long as the clarity and informativeness of the question is not impaired, should the protection of the privacy of the OP and the mentioned people also be a goal?

After all, some OPs may never come back (especially when told to seek professional help elsewhere) or in some other way lose access to their account (login information, forgetting about it even), yet their questions (or even answers) remain.

Edit

(Thanks to @EnglishStudent for the suggestion)

Maybe I'm a bit too sensitive, but from reading the question I learned many details that, not each on their own, but taken as a whole, give too good a picture of the family. That's why I began to wonder.

Let me put it that way: Imagine you were the son and stumbled upon that post: Age, diagnosis, relationship status (newly "found" girlfriend, introduced by father), details about parents (married for how long, details about father's job, how many children) and country all fit. Now you'd learn the background of your new girlfriend and father's role in it, and it would be hard to convince you otherwise, wouldn't it?

That's why I thought that by obscuring some details, e. g. age, diagnosis etc., readers would be less convinced about whether they know the mentioned people or not.

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  • For reference, Personally identifiable information. – user3169 Sep 23 '17 at 20:54
  • The question you linked does not seem to contain explicit details and age 27 doesn't seem particularly identifying, but your concern is generally justified and may become very relevant when somebody posts information in a question that allows identification of an individual or family. In such cases a member could edit to obscure details (make more vague) and as suggested by these answers, flag for moderator attention explaining your concerns and reasons for the editing and asking them to permanently delete those details (redact) -- am sure they will take appropriate action @Anne Daunted. – English Student Sep 24 '17 at 16:16
  • @EnglishStudent Thanks! Maybe I'm a bit too sensitive, but from reading the question I learned many details that, not each on their own, but taken as a whole, give too good a picture of the family. That's why I began to wonder. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Sep 24 '17 at 16:41
  • Let me put it that way: Imagine you were the son and stumbled upon that post: Age, diagnosis, relationship status (newly "found" girlfriend, introduced by father), details about parents (married for how long, details about father's job, how many children) and country all fit. Now you'd learn the background of your new girlfriend and father's role in it, and it would be hard to convince you otherwise, wouldn't it? – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Sep 24 '17 at 16:46
  • That's a real cause for concern, @Anne Daunted! I appreciate the gravity when you put it that way. Nobody had thought about it from that angle before, so the community needs to discuss this potential type of problem. I was only thinking of third-parties not being able to identify an individual or family. Please edit your last 2 comments into your question to give members a 'graphic idea' of the very real possibilities. After all Stack Exchange is a very famous network of websites and the OP's son might well be a member here! – English Student Sep 24 '17 at 17:09
6

What we should edit out

Yes, we should edit things out. We don't need to know someone Social Security number, for example, to help them with a problem. Here are some suggested bits of information to remove:

  • Full names (first names can be kept, I suppose, but complete replacement with false names is also fine).
  • Specific addresses. Yeah, we need cultural context in many cases, but we normally don't care about what town or country you're from.
  • Numbers that identify someone - telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, etc. - although most of these won't come up every often.

How they should be replaced

  • Use fake names, if names are needed at all.
  • Remove overly specific location info; edit it down to the bare minimum (e.g. country, or maybe state/province).
  • Remove identifying numbers completely.

Also, as NVZ suggested, moderators can redact information in the revision history. If you believe sensitive information is in there somewhere, flag, and we can take a look. Not everything has to be redacted, but use your common sense.

Going forward

Questions seem to vary a lot when it comes to providing personal details, as you've probably observed. Ages and locations, in particular, seem to not be consistently at specific levels of detail. I'll admit that sometimes, things need to be more specific (or vague), but it can be hard to tell, especially for the OP.

I'm going to be propose that we put together a set of guidelines about how much personal information is usually needed - and how much is too much. This could tell people that, for example...

  • Saying that a person is in their late 20s might be good; saying that they're 28 years, 4 months, and three days old is probably not.
  • Telling us that this takes place in Anytown, Anytown County, AnyState, USA, zip code [XXXXX]. We really don't need to know that for the vast majority of cases.

These guidelines could be used by both askers and editors. Standardization would be nice; I have no desire to see flame wars between folks who disagree about this kind of thing and start rolling back each others' edits. Suggestions are welcome.

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1

I'm all for protecting privacy.

If an OP provides the real names, addresses, phone numbers etc. of the persons mentioned, we should quickly edit that out of the main question page.

Although... it will still remain in the revisions page and will require a moderator's involvement to redact information which completely removes all traces from the revision history (used for exceptional and urgent matters only).

That said, I've not yet come across any post where privacy was a major concern. So far most of the users either use friend, neighbour, coworker, etc. and not real names. And better yet, to help aid comprehension, I have encouraged users to use placeholder names like Alice, Bob, etc.

So...

Yes, edit out info if they appear unnecessarily specific.


In the linked example, I don't see any personally identifying info. The OP uses a random name and uses fake names for the persons mentioned. Editing the age from 27 years to late 20s won't benefit anyone in this particular example.

Let's wait for more examples to make better guidelines.

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  • "Let's wait for more examples to make better guidelines." honestly, if this answer just consisted of that last sentence, I would still upvote it. – user288 Sep 24 '17 at 1:53

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