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I can see that anyone can see the favorites of other people.

I don't care much about this, but I was thinking: is this a privacy issue?

For example, someone downvoted some questions or wrote negative comments on it and later when question gained popularity, that person marked as favorite.

Although its not a big issue, I just want to know what is the point of seeing other people's favorites?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The point to being able to see a person's favorites is to see the topics they find interesting. Keep in mind that I, for instance, may want to favorite something to see what further answers are submitted (like on older questions) or it may be a topic I want to come back to and find in the future (easier to sort through a small list than a large one).

That is the point of making that list public. I hope this addresses one of your concerns.

As for "what if I favorite a particular question that could possibly paint me in a dim light in the future?" ... so what? Are you really so afraid of criticism that you worry when anyone might make fun of you? I mean honestly, if that's the sort of peer group you roll with on a regular basis, that they only want to find ways to make fun of you, then you need new peers. And if you're worried about it for a job-placement purpose, consider this: "I thought that was an interesting problem that I had never heard of and wanted to followup on it later". It's hard for people to say "oh no that's so commonplace" because then it puts them in the same place you were worried about being in.

Additionally, this is a site/network for professionals, so I would hope that all members would act like adults and like professionals, so if you see someone not doing that, say something immediately. You can do this by flagging any such content.

Lastly: EVERYTHING YOU DO ON THE SE NETWORKS IS PUBLIC (with small and notable examples. Moderators have access to a limited facility of features that are not public. The use of those things are generally for noting the behaviors of the sort of people who we probably do not want on the network in the future. If you find yourself the target of those features, you will know it. Likely you will never find yourself the target of those features.) caveats noted tyvm

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Most of this answer would apply equally well to making everyone's browser bookmarks be publicly viewable. What a popular feature that would be! –  Matt Aug 21 at 8:08

Being able to see anyone's favorites is a symptom of a privacy issue - that users are not given the choice of what, when, or how to share some parts of their personal information. Several proposed answers ridicule you for bringing this up, or claim that being able to hide your favourites has no value. These answers miss the point - that privacy is a complex issue and different aspects of it have different amounts of value to different people.

The problem with making a list of favourites public is that a decision is being made to share data without explicitly asking the user whether it should be shared, nor giving them the opportunity to correct it.

Publishing favourites is fundamentally different from publishing other pieces of user information such as questions and answers. Questions and answers are created and submitted with the primary intent of sharing information. When I ask a question or write an answer, I am making a choice to publicly post that information. Importantly, I am also taking an explicit action - I type text into a textbox and click 'submit'. As a user I understand that clicking 'submit' will publish the text I have typed for all the world to see.

Contrarily, the favourites feature does not have the primary goal of sharing the information that it generates. Users mark questions as favourites mainly so they can more easily track them and refer to them later{1} (cf. the faq - "This lets you find it easily when the question may get lost"). Publicly sharing that favouriting is a side effect of the user's action, and not something they specifically approved when they clicked on the star. And importantly, this side effect is not immediately obvious the way it is for submitting questions and answers - many users do not realize their list of favourites is being made public.

The issue here is that users are never given the opportunity to decide or control whether this piece of information - their list of favourites - is published. This issue is compounded and confused by the fact that different people who use Stack Exchange sites have different assumptions about what should happen with that information. Some people believe that favourites should be public, and so there is no problem. Some believe that favourites should be private, and are surprised or concerned that a) they weren't asked or told about the decision to publish their favourites, and b) that they cannot take any action to correct that decision for the future. Still other people never think about it, and so we don't know what their preference might be.

If you are in the second group and feel that favourites should be private, it may seem like a poor user interface, unfair practise, or just plain deception that the decision to publish that data is being made without your consent. That is a problem, and thus I believe the issue of whether to publish favourites should be addressed.

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To further advocate that the issue of whether to publish favourites should be addressed, let's look at some popular counter-arguments.

1. "Favorites are made public so anyone can see the topics a user finds interesting".

This is certainly a valid and benificial feature. But shouldn't each person be able to control whether their favorites can be used that way? Shouldn't they be given the choice?

2. "Everything you do on the Stack Exchange network is already public"

Maybe it is right now, but does that mean it should be? Several users have commented on or answered this question stating they would like to be able to keep their favourites private. The very fact that this question is being asked means the feature has value to some people. Evaluating the possibilities and then making a decision is a better course of action than saying "we can't do that because we've never done it before".

3. "Publishing a user's favouriting behaviour doesn't reveal that much"

It does reveal something, and that revelation is obviously worth different amounts to different people. Some people don't care if their favourites are published. Some probably want them published. And some don't. Shouldn't Stack Exchange accommodate all groups?

4. "You shouldn't post information on the public internet that you don't want people to know"

The issue is that when someone clicks the star to favourite a question they aren't posting information to the internet. Or at least, they're not consciously choosing to post information, nor asking Stack Exchange to post information. They're mainly just trying to bookmark the question, and a decision to publish information is being made for them. See the explanation above on side effects.

5."Why do you care if your favorites are public?"

and

6."Can't you stand a little criticism?"

Behind statements like these is the incorrect argument "if you're not doing anything wrong then you've got nothing to hide". Not only is this not true, it insidiously sidesteps the issue and often leads to heated debates.

To quote Daniel Solove: "The problem with the nothing-to-hide argument is the underlying assumption that privacy is about hiding bad things. .. [it also] myopically views privacy as a form of secrecy". "Privacy" is a complex set of issues. "[It] involves so many things that it is impossible to reduce them all to one simple idea. And we need not do so."

There is at least one important issue here: a decision is being made about what to do with some user information without asking their consent nor giving them the opportunity to change it. The issue is affecting how and whether some people contribute to Stack Exchange. Let's not hide the issue by saying it doesn't matter or criticizing people who discuss it. Let's evaluate the options and solve it. To quote Solove again: "People don't acknowledge certain problems, because those problems don't fit into a particular one-size-fits-all conception of privacy. Regardless of whether we call something a 'privacy' problem, it still remains a problem, and problems shouldn't be ignored."

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Finally, an argument for implementing private favourites: leaving this problem unsolved hurts Stack Exchange because it discourages some users from contributing.

I would hate for someone to avoid contributing to Stack Overflow because they didn't want their favourites made public. Far better to give them the option of sharing what they wish, and then contributing how they wish. We Stack Exchange users want to make the internet a better place. Letting people decide exactly how they assist with that goal can only lead to more positive contributions.

The Stack Exchange Privacy Policy says "We take the private nature of your personal information very seriously, and are committed to protecting it." I'm glad they feel this way. Giving people the choice of whether to make their favorites public is a good step towards helping protect personal information.

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Footnote:

{1} Sure, some users may mark favourites specifically so they can show off what topics interest them, but this is an emergent behaviour.

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This is a very well written answer. You've changed my mind about this topic. People should have the choice... –  Lix Jul 5 '12 at 14:53
    
2. "Everything you do on the Stack Exchange network is already public" ~~ Maybe it is right now, but does that mean it should be? Several users have commented on or answered this question stating they would like to be able to keep their favourites private. The very fact that this question is being asked means the feature has value to some people. Evaluating the possibilities and then making a decision is a better course of action than saying "we can't do that because we've never done it before". this is the crux of the matter, and the simple truth is: SE doesn't want to do that. –  jcolebrand Jul 5 '12 at 21:54
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At this point I think that people have made the issue clear, the team has weighed the pros-cons based on the information they have at hand, and they have decided that they don't want to make a fundamental change to the way things are now. Granted, I'm not on that team, so I don't speak for them, so everything I say is here-say in the first place. Just my $0.05. Which is them making a decision on how to proceed. It's not "ignoring the question" or anything like that. Additionally, what I don't understand is why favorites shouldn't be shared. I understand the problem of choice you question... –  jcolebrand Jul 5 '12 at 21:56
    
...but what I don't understand is who has something that marking the question as a favorite is a bad thing with the system. What precisely is up for privacy violation? They aren't exposing anything that my tags or comments or answers or flag history wouldn't also expose, are they? I mean, addresses and birthday are still hidden, and those are the things I think of when they say privacy concerns. And voting, but that's a little different. –  jcolebrand Jul 5 '12 at 21:59
    
@Lix Thank you very much! That is the highest compliment :) Is it appropriate to tag this question as a feature-request? Should I create a new question? I am not sure of the etiquette. –  culix Jul 6 '12 at 1:37
    
@jcolebrand I do not mean to imply that the SE team has ignored this problem; merely to point out that a problem still exists. When I searched before answering, however, I could not find any previous discussions - only this question. Do you have any links to past discussions or decisions? –  culix Jul 6 '12 at 1:39
    
@jcolebrand >"They aren't exposing anything that my tags or comments or answers or flag history wouldn't also expose, are they?" - AFAIK you are only able to see someone's favourites by viewing the 'Favourites' tab of their profile. Is that right? If so then I think it's certainly possible for a user to mark something as a favourite but never comment, tag, flag, or vote on it (perhaps expressly for the purpose of hiding the fact they have favourited it). –  culix Jul 6 '12 at 1:40
    
@jcolebrand >"what I don't understand is *why* favorites shouldn't be shared .. I don't understand [why someone would feel that sharing their favourites is bad]" Have I paraphrased you accurately? I believe that is key: different users have different expectations of what should be private. I respect your opinion. But other users have different opinions, and because sharing favourites is an issue to them it affects SE, because it may affect how those people use SE (or cause them to not use it at all). Does that make sense? –  culix Jul 6 '12 at 1:44
    
Basically: favourites should not forcibly be shared with no option for recourse because not forcibly sharing them is really important to some people. –  culix Jul 6 '12 at 1:45
    
@jcolebrand >"addresses and birthday are still hidden, and those are the things I think of when they say privacy concerns. And voting, but that's a little different." This is a good example of different people having different views. For you, sharing your address and birthday is a privacy concern, but favourites are not. To someone else, perhaps sharing their favourites is a privacy issue but sharing their birthday is not. Does that help explain why this is an issue? –  culix Jul 6 '12 at 1:46
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You sir, have managed to make a mountain out of a molehill. –  bobobobo Jul 6 '12 at 2:16
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Whatever one thinks about the importance of privacy for Stack Overflow favourites, consider sites like Christianity and Islam. One's favourites there could be interpreted as indicating certain beliefs that they may not want known. Those sites didn't exist when the favourites system was initially implemented; they may be a good reason to reevaluate its design. –  Jeremy Banks Jul 6 '12 at 2:35
    
@culix actually, sharing my birthday isn't a problem, it's a matter of public record. But in the place where that information is entered in, it is in the same place where all the other "secrets" are kept. As for the rest of the matter, the development team has obviously already made this a public feature, as are all the other options with a few notable exceptions, such as your birthdate (which is only used to display your age on your profile). Everything else, as a matter of design, is open on this site. That has been oft repeated as a design goal for the SE software. –  jcolebrand Jul 6 '12 at 4:17
    
    
and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/120576/… ... keep in mind, I've been a member of this community for several years now, this is your first few months participating, so you're arguing for something that hasn't been even close to a problem, and in response to Jeremy's comment, if you're worried about people who assume information about you based on a single button click that you made, then you might need to reevaluate your interaction with other people. –  jcolebrand Jul 6 '12 at 4:20

A setting to make them private would be good and leave the default setting as public.

Or since SE apparently hates "settings", how about adding a way per question to get updated on changes to the question. Similar to the tag email alerts or how you can get alerted on new answers if you are the person who wrote the question.

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Apparently you must be new here. The SE team is almost as firmly against "settings" as they can be. Not making a choice but leaving something to be a setting is being weak, so with the exception of enabling popups on chat (Which is a per-browser feature in the first place and is a locally stored setting, not stored on the server) there are NO settings on the SE Network. There are favorites (favorite tags, favorite questions, un-favorite tags) but those are not settings. (ok, I take that back, your 8 editable-fields profile is full of "settings" :p) –  jcolebrand Jun 12 '11 at 17:25
    
re-worded it in case the settings hatred is true. –  bkaid Jun 12 '11 at 17:31
    
You did fine but regardless, you've not given a reason to have private data on the SE network... –  jcolebrand Jun 12 '11 at 17:34
    
The alerts I have set up are private - why aren't those made public then? Lots of things on here are private. For example, which questions/answers I voted up or down. Why not show peoples detail vote history. –  bkaid Jun 12 '11 at 17:37
    
Which alerts? The tag alerts? Hmmm, because those are directly tied to your email? That should be publicly available, because I might want to get some ideas from other people's tag alerts too. I'mma suggest that. As far as vote details, there's a seemingly obvious reason for that. –  jcolebrand Jun 12 '11 at 17:39
    
Also, you are aware of this right? stackexchange.com/users/… –  jcolebrand Jun 12 '11 at 17:42
    
oops no i wasn't aware that those were available. –  bkaid Jun 12 '11 at 17:54
    
@BK You may be interested in my answer meta.stackexchange.com/a/138723/189918 –  culix Jul 5 '12 at 8:40
    
@jcolebrand I searched around but couldn't find info on why the SE team hates "settings". Could you provide a link? –  culix Jul 5 '12 at 8:41
    
Ummm, that is likely something from 3 years of being around this group, but I'll see what I can dredge up... here's the first one I can find: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/72440/… –  jcolebrand Jul 5 '12 at 16:06
    
@jcolebrand Thank you. I would be very interested to hear what they (and you!) think of my answer ( meta.stackexchange.com/a/138723/189918 ) –  culix Jul 5 '12 at 20:05

I will explain how seeing a user's favourites is a privacy issue.

You know that some guy works in a competing company. You monitor his SO activity. When a new field of interest appears, you see that the competing company is doing something in this area. In the best case, you can guess the features of their product before it is released. Or compose a list of encountered problems and attempted solutions, a valuable information for making a me-too.

But back to the guy. He has signed a non-disclosure agreement and if his employer finds out how the leak happened...

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the exact same thing could happen if "the guy" asked a question in that area or answered one. –  Kate Gregory Jun 26 '13 at 12:58
    
@Kate Gregory: answers reveal the history of interests; searched questions do reveal the current interests, but only new questions are visible. And yes, the guy has to think about the NDA before asking questions and, of course, before answering. –  18446744073709551615 Jun 27 '13 at 5:03

I don't see how seeing a user's favourites is a privacy issue.

There is no way to tell from the user's favouriting behaviour alone how they have voted, or commented. (Plus, all comments from a user are publicly visible anyway.)

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But what purpose it is solving by making it public. E.g for me i don't want anyone to see what i like and what i don't like –  Mirror51 Jun 12 '11 at 14:26
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@Mirror I don't know what explicit purpose it serves. The only workaround that comes to mind is storing your favourites privately in your browser's bookmarks –  Pëkka Jun 12 '11 at 14:29
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@Pekka's Dont get me wrong. Just consider this case. Suppose in ADULT SE Forum someone favorited A Question where some sex problem is discussed , Now someone can guess that He has that problem and somehow someone can make fun of him. Although very unlikely but just a case. So someone will feel awkward that person with 21K reputation is favoriting sex questions :) –  Mirror51 Jun 12 '11 at 14:36
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@Mirror51: don't favorite things you don't want people to know you care about. it's as simple as that. don't ever post on the public internet things you don't want people to know. –  Mat Jun 12 '11 at 15:18
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@Mat: While that's true, many people do not know that their list of favourites is public. –  Lorem Ipsum Jun 12 '11 at 15:21
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@yoda, you are right, i also didn't knew that but now i will be careful –  Mirror51 Jun 12 '11 at 15:31

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