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Hi, I asked this in the tavern. I need to ask a question anonymously as my profile is pretty much traceable to me.

I've been told that logging out and asking the question will do. However I'm worried that when I log in again the question will be re-associated with my account.

I'm not worried about reputation but more that it reflects on people in real life I know indirectly and I don't want to offend them.

Is it sufficient to just log out and ask the question?

Edit 1: clarification added in comments. I don't think any of the people concerned are members of these sites but they are readers. What I wouldn't like is for someone to see a situation similar to the one their in, combined with my username, my email address on my profile, my location. Pretty much means that if someone was to see the question they'd know it was about them. Thats what I don't want.

Edit 2: Morality I want to make it clear if this is against rules I won't do it either. I'm quite happy to let the mods know it was me who made the post. I won't be upvoting it either.

You've all been great telling me How to do this but just like Kragen I'd like an official nod to go ahead. I don't know whether this behaviour is banable, discouraged, encouraged (as I'm trying to prevent hurting peoples feelings) or otherwise.

Secondly I'm not worried about them trying to track me down just an accidental spot. So long as it doesn't have my username which lets face it would be recognised directly connected to the post I'm happy.

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Anonymously to whom? Moderators? –  YOU Apr 29 '11 at 17:00
    
To the whole world. Forget the moderators :) –  GrzegorzOledzki Apr 29 '11 at 17:01
    
@YOU I don't think any of the people concerned are members of these sites but they are readers. What I wouldn't like is for someone to see a situation similar to the one their in, combined with my username, my email address on my profile, my location. Pretty much means that if someone was to see the question they'd know it was about them. Thats what I don't want. –  Wes Apr 29 '11 at 17:07
    
I see @Wes, to be more safe, create new email account, and use it when you got asked when posting question –  YOU Apr 29 '11 at 17:10
    
For the record, user merge is never automatic, it's only instigated by moderators or Team members. Anonymous or otherwise, logging out to post still presents a separate user. –  Grace Note Apr 29 '11 at 17:19
    
one note: if someone (other than moderators) is tricky enough to track you, they can put a dummy images on their server and track suspected posts of you, and can check IP there. –  YOU Apr 29 '11 at 17:25
    
You may get the "official word" posted here, but I think the question I link to in my answer should be sufficient. If not, go through the podcast and find the one where they talk about why the site allows anyone to post a question - anonymity is built in to the site by design. Also, peruse the [anonymous] and [privacy] tags for more information and examples of where people did this and it was fine. –  Adam Davis Apr 29 '11 at 17:48
    
@Adam thats good enough for me. I appreciate the time you've taken to write up a good answer. –  Wes Apr 29 '11 at 19:03
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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Testing shows that logging out will work. Here's the process I followed to test it:

  • Hover over username, click logout
  • Log out of ALL sites (don't know if this is important, but one can't be too sure)
  • Post question
  • Log out again (it created a temporary cookie-based account - you NEED to log out of this account to make sure the question isn't associated with anything)
  • Log back in

The question posted does NOT associate with any account.

The test question I added was:

How to create a display for OS X?

Feel free to answer it.

Note that the stack overflow logs could indicate that you posted it, but it won't be shown publicly. You can't use this to escape notice from Stack Exchange, but you could use this to escape notice from the rest of the world.

If you wanted to be doubly sure, clear your cookies AND your HTML5 stored data cache.

Lastly, you are fine posting questions anonymously. It's not against the rules as long as you aren't abusing the site or trying to get around a site restriction. In this case you are welcome to do so.


PLEASE NOTE:

Once you post the question, SO creates a temporary account for you which is associated only by your cookies. If you log out of this, you CANNOT edit your question, or comment on it as the original anonymous poster.

If you need to follow up on the question (and you should, if it's important to you!) then you should either:

  • fully create a new account with a new openid so you can deal with it later
  • don't log out of the new account until the question is answered to your satisfaction and you've accepted an answer

You can accomplish the second more easily by downloading a new browser (if you use chrome, get FF, if you use FF, get chrome) and using that exclusively with the new account until you are done, or create a new user in your browser (which, on most OS's, requires a new user for your computer).

Private browsing should also work, however, again, you'll lose access to the anonymous account once you eat your cookies, and won't be able to interact without going through the same process again, and won't be able to accept and answer in any case.

The official word

Jeff has explained elsewhere that posting anonymously is permitted by design. Here's one post where a user asked about how to log out of an anonymous account (which is now easier) is here:

How do I logout from a non-registered account?

Note that Jeff does not whip the user for posting anonymously, and in fact gives the information requested.

I suspect you'd have to visit the podcast archives to hear him say it more clearly.

You will not get in troulbe for posting anonymously. The only time you are not allowed to do that is if you are doing it in order to abuse the site or break the rules. This is not one of those cases.

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No email address needed when you post the question as anonymous? –  YOU Apr 29 '11 at 17:14
    
@You Yes, but it isn't verified. I used my gmail email with a salt so the hash gives a generated gravatar, and if the admins or mods need to contact me the email will still work. It'll be practically impossible for someone to determine my email from the hash, but of course SO knows it. You can enter an invalid or one-time email there as well and the question will still be posted. –  Adam Davis Apr 29 '11 at 17:16
    
When trying to clear the HTML5 Local Storage, don't use Safari... –  Arjan Apr 29 '11 at 17:23
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@Arjan wow. Well, fortunately you don't have to clear HTML5 storage for this method, I've only included that as an option for those who are very paranoid. Logging out is enough. –  Adam Davis Apr 29 '11 at 17:26
2  
You can get another seperate session on Chrome Incognito mode too. –  YOU Apr 29 '11 at 17:26
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Cookie-based accounts can be restored if the email address is valid: stackoverflow.com/users/account-recovery –  Arjan Apr 29 '11 at 17:45
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-1, I am able to circumvent your anonymous account by looking at your comment where you imply that you are the question asker. Privacy shattered. –  Daniel DiPaolo Apr 29 '11 at 17:48
    
@Daniel Yes, but the question was posted anonymously, and as long as I don't make any mistakes it's going to be anonymous forever. The test was simply to show that it's possible, not that you can't mess it up by stupidity. Trust me. You will NOT be able to find the questions I've truly posted anonymously, nor, if you came across one, would you be able to figure out it was me. But feel free to try. –  Adam Davis Apr 29 '11 at 17:49
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@Adam yeah I was kidding ;) –  Daniel DiPaolo Apr 29 '11 at 18:01
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@Daniel See, that's the problem with sarcasm detectors. They don't tell you when they're broken! –  Adam Davis Apr 29 '11 at 18:31
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  1. Log out
  2. Ask the question
  3. Don't use your same email address or your Gravatar will be the same!
  4. Clear your browser's cookies
  5. Log back in

I haven't tried it, but if you do that I can't imagine any way in which it will be associated with your account.

If SO has the ability to allow a user to register after asking a question, then it would be accomplished through a session cookie that is still alive when registration happens. It would be this same ability which would cause the problem you are worried about. Clear the cookies, and that feature is thwarted.


Edit to your edit about the appropriateness of this practice:

AFAIK it is explicitly encouraged to use an alternate account for the purpose of posting questions that for what ever reason, internally or externally, would be a bad idea to associate with your main account. Just don't cross-vote.

Links: Jeff said (over a year ago), it's not at all against the rules, but would be frowned upon to create accounts just for the sake of it, since he could see no good reason for it. However, Grace Note points out a couple reasons in addition to yours for doing so.

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I'm interested to hear the official verdict on this, however its worth pointing out that to be sure that your post isn't associated to your account the best method would be to ask the question from another web connection, for example:

  • At a web cafe
  • From public wi-fi with private browsing enabled
  • Via a web proxy
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Another option is to temporarily install and use another browser. This won't share any cookies, HTML5 storage or temporary internet cache with your primary browser so should be a pretty sure-fire way of ensuring that the two don't intermingle.

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Same thing as using Chrome's private browsing window. –  NickC Apr 29 '11 at 17:21
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@Renesis - yup, in theory ;-) –  Rob Apr 29 '11 at 17:22
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These should be combined; ordered by increasing level of paranoia:

  • Anonymize the posted content (that one should be default for any public data - posting "I am root at 127.154.22.11 with password letmein" is asking for trouble anyway, but things like e-mail headers can give you away; also don't reuse your nickname or e-mail address when posting anon)
  • Use a different browser which doesn't store your browsing habits - there are builds that you don't even need to install, just launch them off a flash disk: http://www.srware.net/en/software_srware_iron_download.php
  • Use a different connection - post from a wifi cafe or a public network (e.g. library)
  • Use TOR - this will make you appear to be in a completely different place (however TOR nodes may be blocked on some sites)
  • Attempt to change your posting style (I admit that this borders on clinical paranoia).

These, when combined, should give you at least some peace of mind.

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Don't forget to change your fingerprints! –  NickC Apr 29 '11 at 19:49
    
@Renesis: That, too :D –  Piskvor Apr 29 '11 at 19:54
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