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Browsing through meta I see several questions and comments where people ask for their list of bookmarks to be private {1} {2} {3} {4} {5} {6} {7}. There is a discussion (where I posted an answer) but no explicit feature request, so I thought I would ask: What do you think of an option to keep your list of bookmarks private?

Arguments:

  1. People are requesting the feature {1} {2} {3} {4} {5} {6} {7}. It is my hope that by posting this question we can give people who are interested a central place to cast their votes.

  2. Automatically publishing a user's bookmarks is a privacy concern and may discourage some people from contributing to the site. Unlike posting a question or answer, where it is expected that the information will be published and an explicit action is taken to make it public, bookmarks are usually used to bookmark questions for later. Publishing that information is counter-intuitive and done without user consent. See my answer here for an explanation.

  3. If you want to use SE but don't want your bookmarks to be public, you currently have no recourse. Your options are: don't use the site, or don't use the feature. This is not ideal, as SE should encourage all willing contributors, and I do not see a good reason to make the site less functional for some than for others.

My point is: even if bookmarks being public is not an issue for you it is obviously an issue for some people. By addressing the issue we can make SE a more welcoming site for everyone and encourage its use, rather than discouraging people and losing valuable contributions.

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    "leaving this problem unsolved hurts Stack Exchange because it discourages some users from contributing" And this is a significant group? i.e. not just you? Any evidence to back this up?
    – Bart
    Jul 23, 2012 at 5:19
  • 12
    1. Consider browser bookmarks. 2. The Privacy Policy has a specific definition for "personal information" that does not cover a list of favorite questions. 3. To add on to Bart's comment, one can post questions and answers without using the favorites feature. Someone who is concerned about the public/private status of their favorites can elect not to use it with minimal impact on their usage of the rest of the site.
    – waiwai933
    Jul 23, 2012 at 5:20
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    This isn't a porn site. What do you have to be embarrassed about or hide?
    – jmort253
    Jul 23, 2012 at 5:22
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    I don't see the reason why this favourites list is public too. It doesn't bother me but I don't see the need for it. Do people actually bother reading others' favourites? Jul 23, 2012 at 6:09
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    I personally don't care but apparently some people do - so reverse the question: Why are favorites public? Who decided that they are and why?
    – spring
    Jul 23, 2012 at 9:13
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    @skinnyTOD to answer that question, the answer is that "as much as possible, everything done on the Stack Exchange network is as publicly accessible as is possible and where such information would not create a conflict of interest, and does not violate privacy policies." Which I doubt is written down as such, but that's pretty much it. Revealing voting history or flagging history would create conflicts of interest. But mods need to know how a person flagged, so moderators can see flag history. And we are given tools to see if you've voted one person entirely too often.
    – jcolebrand
    Jul 23, 2012 at 12:21
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    Otherwise, there are very few things which are private, and those are not entirely private, because obviously the dev team can see the things that exist in the database. The Stack Exchange staff wants everything to be as public as possible, and favorites have shown no reason to be private, yet. The burden of proof, as they say, is still on the asker here.
    – jcolebrand
    Jul 23, 2012 at 12:22
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    I still feel the burden is on the asker here, as I don't feel like sufficient cause has been shown to suggest that "a known public-facing feature of the site is not made private, but I want to use that feature in a private manner, and expect the site should be changed to reflect that".
    – jcolebrand
    Jul 23, 2012 at 12:23
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    @Bart I have posted several links to requests for this feature as evidence. How's that?
    – culix
    Jul 25, 2012 at 3:13
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    @waiwai933 Good point about the privacy policy's definition for "personal information". However, it also says they'll explicitly tell you when they're collecting personal information, and favorites don't do that. I believe publishing favorites is a side effect (see my answer here)
    – culix
    Jul 25, 2012 at 3:15
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    @waiwai933 You could use bookmarks but what about them not existing on every computer you may use, getting lost, etc? Basically, why hobble the features of the SE site for some users?
    – culix
    Jul 25, 2012 at 3:15
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    @jmort253 >What do you have to be embarrassed about or hide? Wanting privacy is not a matter of wanting to hide anything - please see counterargument 6 of my answer here. In this case I'm concerned that a decision is being made about what to do with user information without asking their consent nor giving them the opportunity to change it.
    – culix
    Jul 25, 2012 at 3:17
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    @JackManey Hey, relax, it's only been a few hours. I have a life you know ;) Besides, isn't it supposed to be the Summer of Love for new users?
    – culix
    Jul 25, 2012 at 3:19
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    On the "embarrassed" argument: stack exchange has sites that may have lots of potentially controversial questions (for example, about politics, religion, workplace ethic, etc). Imagine a user who uses their real name and is a well-known employee of a company, for example. They might want to avoid the public association with controversial topics because of the company brand. It's a far-fetched hypothesis, but you get my point.
    – geekley
    May 18, 2020 at 20:38
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    Just a short comment: Bookmarks should be private by default. If anything there should be an option to make them public.
    – Trilarion
    May 19, 2020 at 11:36

3 Answers 3

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For me, the biggest issue is how unclear it is that clicking the bookmark icon is an action that is published. Specially considering that in many other sites/apps this isn't the case.

Firstly, you can see the number of people who marked a specific question as bookmark, but you can't see who they are by clicking or hovering the number (like you can in github). That's already a huge reason for assuming that the feature is private, without even questioning it.

To add to that, upvoting/downvoting is anonymous (thankfully) and the icon is right next to the voting buttons. So, if you know that voting is anonymous, you might easily assume that bookmarks are anonymous too.

The funny thing is that, since voting is something you intentionally do for the benefit of the community, I would expect that to be public, but surprisingly it's not! On the other hand, tracking your favorite questions is a thing you do primarily for yourself, so isn't it more logical for it to be private?


I see three possible solutions for this:

  1. Showing a message the first time a bookmark is added, warning about the fact that they are publicly visible or at least change the tooltip to Bookmark this question (your list of bookmarks can be seen by others).
    • Less than ideal solution, but the minimum that should be done.
    • Easy to implement. Simply changing the tooltip can be done without changing anything on the backend or database.
    • Doesn't solve for the people who want to use the feature while keeping their privacy, but at least solves the privacy issue of not being clear that it's public (the biggest issue).
  2. (This feature request): Adding a setting to show/hide all your bookmarks (maybe on a site-per-site basis). If showing is the default, adding the first bookmark should still display the warning (1), with the link to the setting. Default private is better, though.
    • Reasonable solution. Probably not too difficult to implement.
    • Solves for most people, except the ones that want to show their bookmarks for some questions, but want to hide for other questions. Probably a negligible minority.
  3. Having a separate button to keep track of favorite questions privately, while keeping the public "like" feature.

UPDATE: (3) is kind of implemented in the new "follow" feature, which is private, and can function as a sort of "bookmark". You can see followed posts in your own profile. However:

  • (1) is still required for clarity. Specially now that "favorites" has been renamed to "bookmarks" (heavily implies private). Or, do (2) and make private the default setting.
  • No search feature yet, as far as I know. Public bookmarks can be searched with inbookmarks:mine.
  • You can't follow your own posts. So you can't bookmark a favorite answer you posted, or privately bookmark your own question.
  • Solved for people who don't mind receiving notifications on these "private bookmarks".
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    And no, browser bookmarks dont solve the problem. They are too cumbersome to organize, and are not tied to the sites and your user account. You might want access the sites on multiple browsers/devices and shouldn't be forced to have them synced for this sort of thing.
    – geekley
    Feb 5, 2019 at 3:02
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    Via SEDE you can know who favorited a question.
    – rene
    Feb 5, 2019 at 16:29
  • Oh, OK, you can make your own queries like that? Anyways, what I meant is that you can't see them by clicking/hovering the number, like, in an easy and intuitive way. If at least they had this feature, it would be a little less unclear that it's public.
    – geekley
    Feb 6, 2019 at 1:02
  • Yeah, you can write queries like that, assuming the data is made available (deleted posts content is for example not public). I understand you want to have that feature in the UI available for everyone. As it is unlikely this gets added soon, at least not within 6 to 8 weeks, things like SEDE or the stack api and userscripts might be beneficial during the time the feature is not yet implemented, if that even happens.
    – rene
    Feb 6, 2019 at 7:32
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    Wow, I had no idea stars were public until now. Feb 6, 2019 at 14:59
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    See? And the user above has been a member for over 4 years! When people have to go to meta to find out about this sort of thing, then you have a huge privacy issue...
    – geekley
    Feb 7, 2019 at 15:57
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I've updated this to since the Follow feature was recently shipped and we have no plans at the moment to revisit this. Currently, Bookmarked content is public but Followed content is private.

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    Hi, thanks for the update. Is there a place I can submit a request to have Bookmarks made private?
    – culix
    Sep 3, 2020 at 21:44
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    I see on the announcement it says: Users (with the exception of moderators and authorized staff) will not be able to see [the follows profile tab] about other users This is great! Thanks for taking user privacy into account. It would be great if both features could be made private. That would make them behave consistently too.
    – culix
    Sep 3, 2020 at 21:44
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    There's a HUGE difference though. When you follow a post, you get notifications for almost any action that's taken on said post. If you use the "follow feature" as a substitution for the for (private) bookmarks, you start receiving a lot of unwanted notifications as your followed-posts list grows. Oct 8, 2020 at 0:32
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I can see what you're saying, and I agree with the people that suggest browser bookmarks (I use them more than favorites). I just have one more thing to add: I have never found any need to look at someone's favorites. There's nothing to help me there. I can only assume others feel the same about them. Therefore, I wouldn't say that there's anything broken with them. Why fix something that isn't broken?

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    Would you want a potential employer looking at your favorites and drawing conclusions about you?
    – walrii
    Oct 24, 2012 at 1:14

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