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Browsing through meta I see several questions and comments where people ask for their list of favorites 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 favorites 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 favorites 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, favorites 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 favorites 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 favorites 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 '12 at 5:19
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    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 '12 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 '12 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? – Martin Smith Jul 23 '12 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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 at 12:23
  • @culix - Well? Do you have any evidence for the assertions buried within the wall of text that is your question? Are you going to even bother responding to any of the comments to your question? None of the Stack Exchange sites are blogs, you know... – user164207 Jul 24 '12 at 7:10
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    @Bart I have posted several links to requests for this feature as evidence. How's that? – culix Jul 25 '12 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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 at 3:19
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    @culix - It's great that you're focused on privacy; it's a wider issue in our world today, and one day our privacy may be completely gone :( But in all seriousness, the solution to this is easy, just use your browser bookmarks. If browsers didn't have bookmarking features, then I'd be one of the first people standing beside you in this fight. But as it is, the developers have more important things to focus on than a luxury such as this. (I call it luxury only because a solution already exists.) Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Jul 25 '12 at 3:22
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For me, the biggest issue is how unclear it is that clicking the star is an action that is published. Specially considering that in other sites this isn't the case (like starred items in Slack, I believe).

Firstly, you can see the number of people who marked a specific question as favorite, 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 star is private, without even questioning it.

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

The funny thing is that, since voting is something you intentionally do for the benefit of the community, I would expected 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 favorite is added, warning about the fact that favorites are publicly visible or at least change the tooltip of the star to Click to mark as favorite question (your list of favorites can be seen by others).
    • Less than ideal solution, but the minimum that should be done.
    • Easy to implement (can be done in minutes). 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 the star is public (the biggest issue).
  2. (This feature request): Adding a setting to show/hide all your favorites (maybe on a site-per-site basis). If showing is the default, adding the first favorite should still display the warning (1), with the link to the setting.
    • Reasonable solution. Probably not too difficult to implement.
    • Solves for most people, except the ones that want to show their favorites for some questions, but want to hide for other questions. Probably a negligible minority.
  3. Having a separate button for a private "bookmark" or "watch" feature to notify and keep track of favorite questions, while keeping the public "like" feature (can remain as a star).
    • Most complete solution, but also most complex to implement.
    • Solves for everyone.
    • EDIT: Seems to be implemented in the new "follow" feature? Though I still couldn't find a way to see a list of my followed posts.

Even if the team decides not to implement the requested feature (2) or (3), at least (1) should be implemented. I don't think (3) is absolutely necessary, but I suggested it because it would be the ideal case, and they seem to not like adding preferences to the site.

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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 '19 at 3:02
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    Via SEDE you can know who favorited a question. – rene Feb 5 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 7:32
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    Wow, I had no idea stars were public until now. – Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '19 at 14:59
  • 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 '19 at 15:57
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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 '12 at 1:14

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