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This feature request is inspired by the question on Programmers.SE on whether it is appropriate to ask an interview candidate for their Stack Overflow user.

Stack Overflow is a site aimed at professional programmers, and it is used by some employers and some employees to examine or showcase the candidates abilities. I don't see any problem with that, but there is one aspect I'm a bit concerned about. Certain SE sites are far more private than the professional sites like SO. Anyone that participates in Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Biblical Hermeneutics is likely giving out a significant amount of information about their personal belief or world view to anyone who can connect the user name to the actual person. Another example would be controversial topics on Skeptics or Politics; not everyone would like to give their employer access to that kind of information.

The fundamental problem is that the SE platform does not allow for any separation inside one account. Of course one could create separate accounts for private and professional topics, but that requires a significant amount of clairvoyance and a rather annoying user experience juggling separate browsers to log into different accounts at once. An additional problem is that SE has automatic user merge features that can be triggered by logging into two accounts in the same session. I'm not sure how they work exactly, but I suspect that having your two accounts accidentally merged is a real danger if you are not careful.

There should be a mechanism to hide the connection between SE accounts, without having to use separate OpenIDs. For example, if I would like to use my SO account in job applications, I should be able to separate it from all my other accounts. The separation would only be for the publicly accessible part, moderators could still be allowed to see the connection between accounts. And behind the scenes it would just work as it is now, just without any links between the accounts.

The aspects that would need to be changed that I can think of are

  • the accounts tab in the user profile, that shouldn't show any connections for separated profiles
  • copying the user profile to other sites should not work for separated profiles
  • the network profile should not show the connections between separated profiles
  • Area 51 should also not show the profile connections

This separation would not have to be bulletproof, but it should prevent users googling a specific person to make connections the user does not want to make public.

share|improve this question
similar question at TWP meta: Can you add an ask anonymously feature for Stack Exchange sites like this and onstartups? (note also ones in it's "linked" section: "How can I remove this (The Workplace) account association from other stack exchange sites so that It cannot be traced back to me at my office?" etc) –  gnat Sep 19 '13 at 21:16
Although the number is likely to be tiny - It's possible (although admittedly unlikely) that users wishing to participate in certain SE sites are potentially put off by the automatic association with a network wide account and therefore choose to not join such beta sites etc... –  Jon Clements Sep 19 '13 at 21:30
@JonClements My concern is mainly that it is pretty much impossible to separate accounts later. If you intentionally create separate accounts for private and public stuff from the beginning you can manage it (but it is annoying because you have to separate the browser sessions), but most users don't plan that far ahead. –  Mad Scientist Sep 19 '13 at 21:33
@MadScientist Or, may not want to/otherwise can't have multiple browsers/sessions open, in which case they won't bother... Plus, the whole sign up thing would have to change - it's remarkably easy to pop to a sister site, click a button and you've signed up... Maybe there should be a notice at that point of possible options... –  Jon Clements Sep 19 '13 at 21:38
This will also impact how meta.SO is handled since it acts as a kind of catch-all for many network-wide requests. This can easily give away some associations you have connected to your 'main' SO account. –  jmac Sep 19 '13 at 23:29
@MadScientist what about linked accounts but able to hide specific accounts from your public profile? –  psubsee2003 Sep 20 '13 at 1:46
Yes, please, or at least a way to not display it in the linked accounts. This is especially important for beta sites, which can go in different directions from what you anticipated when you joined and contributed content. Short of disassociating (which is a really big hammer that shouldn't be necessary), there's no way to excise a site you later have misgivings about. –  Monica Cellio Sep 20 '13 at 1:59
Related question - Solution for semi-anonymous posts / accounts. –  Dukeling Sep 23 '13 at 1:19
Maybe you want to emphasize that you're talking about the ability to sever the PUBLICLY-VISIBLE connections? Completely separating accounts was possible at one point, but made the login system overly complex - probably not ever going back to that given most folks do like the ability to sign on/off once without having to go site-by-site. –  Shog9 Oct 2 '13 at 22:07
@Shog9, but would that go as far as creating aliases? It's one thing to not have hyperlinks between accounts, but if the account has the same name everywhere, it's not rocket science to correlate. This week I actually decided not to share my careers page with a potential employer, because I realised that it was pretty much impossible for me to guarantee that 5 years of interactions on 32 sites were going to leave me looking squeaky clean. Ironic, because on its own I think my SO account looks quite good! –  Benjol Nov 14 '13 at 7:07
Similar request from a child meta (if not disconnect then at least hide the connection from public view). This is especially important for beta sites, as noted in an earlier comment. –  Monica Cellio Jan 9 at 21:12
Just maintain a completely separate account, accessing it only from Tor from separate browser. –  Vi. Jan 20 at 12:30
@Vi. that's fine if you anticipate the problem, but once the association is made there's no way to break it, hence this request. –  Monica Cellio Jan 20 at 16:08
Another downside to users keeping separate accounts is that they don't get the automatic 100 reputation for new accounts, which means they can't do things as simple as upvoting, even if they're long-time users of other Stack Exchange sites. So they end up having to spend time to re-earn that privilege on new accounts. –  Cupcake Mar 29 at 23:30
@Shog9 - I just decided against posting about 90% of my Q/As to Parents.SE (where on Meta there is about 2 years' worth of public laments over lack of questions keeping them in Beta as the only bad stat). The MAIN and ONLY reason? I don't want extremely personal information revealed on Parenting to be visible to possible future employers when I give them my SO account. In the face of that consideration a super-minor annoyance of having to type in an extra login is NOT an issue to me as a user. Same applies to Workplace, Personal Productivity, and late Relationships. –  DVK May 19 at 4:05

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