56

I've just noticed that someone can Google my name and instantly know If I'm on Stack Overflow, because it shows the "seen 6 minutes ago." It's shown on the results screen, the searcher doesn't even have to click the search result.

Aside from having respect for Google search and feelings of joy for Stack Overflow getting good ratings there, I find it a bit "big-brother" creepy.

Why do we need "last seen," anyway?

At a minimum I'd expect it to keep track using dates, not exact times. But it should be removed altogether.

11
  • 23
    Some bosses might not like seeing you here ^^
    – Ivo Flipse
    Sep 23 '09 at 10:19
  • 3
    Yet they have other means to see all your internet traffic and do not depend on "last seen"
    – malach
    Sep 23 '09 at 11:46
  • 18
    As a side note - Once SO even was predicting the future, as it showed "last seen in a minute" on my user page. Now that is scary...
    – malach
    Sep 23 '09 at 11:47
  • 3
    @Ralph Rickenbach: are you still alive? It sounded threatening.
    – perbert
    Sep 23 '09 at 15:15
  • 5
    @Liran, this is a bug on your end; please change your name to something more common, like "John Smith" or "Jane Williams."
    – Pops
    Aug 30 '10 at 17:15
  • @Ralph, I'm positive this was the subject of its own question at some point, but I can't find it at the moment... I think it had to do with rounding off of times, though.
    – Pops
    Aug 30 '10 at 17:16
  • @Ralph, see this question about the future; I don't think it's the one I was initially thinking of, though.
    – Pops
    Aug 30 '10 at 17:25
  • This feature request seems like it has a lot in common with this one, Please make the “seen” entry optional, should the two of them be merged or something?
    – user163250
    Jun 29 '11 at 23:33
  • 4
    I definitely don't think it should be removed, there are several reasons why it's useful. I don't see any harm in only making it available for logged in users though (which would remove it from Google). Aug 10 at 16:58
  • 2
    heck, it would be super useful even if it could only be seen by folks with 2000+ rep Aug 11 at 17:06
  • Another simple reason for why I never use real name on sites like this. Just like passwords; a separate nick on each site and group/link nicks on work/topic with various e-mails. Simply because it is hidden you can be sure it is logged. Know this behavior is frowned upon by the elite but I do not care. Sites that do not give the opportunity to use nicks are abandoned by me ;P Aug 22 at 22:37
1

The "Last Seen" date has been removed from the Profile in the 2021 Responsive Redesign.

Some changes to the profile while we make it responsive

The removal was not mentioned in the changelog.

In the comments of an answer asking for details on why the Last Seen date was removed, a staff member wrote:

We've actually had quite a few complaints in the past that a "Last seen" indicator public visible is a creepy and intrusive thing to have on a user profile. So I imagine the disappointment will be very 50/50 here. ;)

In Additional profile refinements, the Last Seen date has not come back. The removal was again not mentioned in the Question. The profile redesigner wrote in a comment:

Last seen is available on your own profile, and if you're a moderator. You will not be able to see last seen if you don't have those extra privileges.

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    P.S. I just visited the OP's profile page to see if they had been here more recently than 2009, to see if this new Answer had any chance of now being accepted. 🙃
    – pkamb
    Aug 6 at 19:43
  • 1
    They were on the site in '19, according to their yearling badge @pkamb ;)
    – Luuklag
    Aug 6 at 19:46
  • 1
    @Luuklag Yearling only says they got 200 or more rep in 2019, which doesn't require them to be active (or even to log in) Aug 6 at 21:18
  • @Dudecoinheringaahing that's not true, as they only got 100 rep in 2019.
    – Luuklag
    Aug 6 at 21:24
  • 1
    @Luuklag Sorry, my bad. All it requires to get Yearling is to have 200 * (years since joined) + 1 rep. I'm guessing OP joined in 2009, so that requires 2k reputation to get the Yearling badge in 2019, so I'm not entirely sure how they have it (Source). What's especially weird is that they have 2 Yearling badges from 2019: meta.stackexchange.com/help/badges/13/yearling?userid=132426 Aug 6 at 21:30
  • 2
    "We've actually had quite a few complaints in the past that a "Last seen" indicator public visible is a creepy and intrusive thing to have on a user profile." SO is old enough that I bet you've had "quite a few complaints" about a lot of things. Last seen is actually functionally useful. Unless there's causation with some legit negative follow-on, removing's not a benefit. Change to "Last Month", "Last Year", "[year of last interaction]" to reduce "creepiness", but having at least a t-shirt size label of "last active" is very useful.
    – ruffin
    Aug 17 at 13:33
  • 2
    This doesn’t really solve anything, because “last seen” for every account they’re active in is available in their network profile. You may want to recommend they hide all their accounts if they really care about people seeing that information.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 17 at 19:26
40
+50

Completely agree. I dislike this being watched 'feature' immensely, and don't find it helpful at all. What's the point of it? There's very little you can infer from it. Someone might be just refreshing their user page in between compiles, or they might be answering question after question. You can't tell from that number. If you want to know what people are actually doing, why not just look at their recent tab on their user page?

2
  • 10
    From a content-moderation perspective, it's super useful to see if someone should have seen a comment-reply. For instance, I frequently ask folks to add a minimal, complete, and verifiable code example to their question, then wait to see if they respond within a day or so. If they don't respond, I might delete their question if it's terrible enough, or just delete my now-superflous comment. Aug 11 at 17:09
  • see meta.stackexchange.com/a/65004
    – 0dminnimda
    Aug 30 at 21:14
35

I think removing this altogether is a bad idea. In my opinion there's very little that's private about when someone's last been seen on the site, although since that doesn't seem to be a universal opinion (given the voting here) I'd suggest just reducing the precision, and maybe what's counted as being "seen".

First, reducing precision. The main use for the last seen indicator is with comments, bounties, and similar actions where knowing how active a user is is important. If an answer's invalid, for example, it doesn't make sense to leave a comment about it if the answerer hasn't been seen in a decade. If they were last online yesterday though, instantly flagging the answer is also the wrong choice.

Second, changing what counts as being seen. I personally disagree with this, since there are quite a few users who check the site regularly but don't actively ask or answer much. However, changing it from passively viewing the site to things like checking an inbox notification or voting could help with the privacy aspect a bit.

Personally, I think reducing the precision would have very little impact on the feature's usefulness for moderation purposes, but would remove a lot of the privacy issues with it. I disagree with changing what counts as being seen, and just changing the precision is almost certainly enough. But please, don't remove this feature. This isn't a social network, it's a Q&A site, and there are multiple legitimate uses for knowing how active someone is.

2
  • 1
    I agree. I don't see what is necessarily worse about "Last seen" than checking the timestamp of the user's latest question/answer/comment/edit. "Last seen" at least could be replaced with "Most recent activity" with no increase in information disclosure.
    – jamesdlin
    Aug 10 at 7:31
  • 3
    @jamesdlin Well, that's not entirely true, since the current "last seen" shows the last date that the site was passively accessed, and that's useful for determining if a user who doesn't post much is still actively checking their inbox. Aug 10 at 15:15
34

When I see a post with problems, and there are comments1 raising the issue that are more than a few hours (or few days, depending on the site) old, I tend to check the poster's "last seen" date to see if he's been back to the site since those comments were posted. If it's likely that comments have been seen but the post hasn't been fixed, I am more inclined to take a stronger action (downvote, flag, vote to delete) than I would if I thought the user hadn't yet seen the feedback and had a chance to address it. As a moderator I also use the "last seen" information to decide whether to delete comments (if they're ones he should see but that shouldn't stick around forever).

A recent "last seen" doesn't guarantee that he's actually seen something, but it's evidence. I suppose I could look at his recent activity to see what he's actually been doing, but that's more work. (I'm aware that a stale "last seen" doesn't mean he hasn't seen the comments, but that's not the issue here.)

By the way, since all your activity is public, protecting "last seen" only protects your reading/voting activity (if it's the most recent thing you've done). If you're active on a site, you're already leaving a trail of timestamps.

1 Or, more rarely, an "insufficient explanation" post notice.

2
  • Could you differentiate whether you mean as "diamond mod" or "user mod" — as I as user mod also & always use it the same way. So hiding that info from other users also has its downsides. (& Why does nobody suggest to hide that info tidbit from Google and other data-scrapers? — Increasing privacy is usually a plus…) Aug 11 at 12:18
  • @LаngLаngС Since Monica Cellio was a diamond moderator when she wrote this answer, she is talking of diamond moderators. Generally speaking, moderator should be taken to mean diamond moderator. When users speak of something that doesn't require being a diamond moderator to be done, they don't speak of moderator action.
    – apaderno
    Aug 23 at 10:42
24

Well, if the user does not click on the result, he gets a cached page from google to the best of my knowledge. Therefore he does not know whether the "6 minutes ago" actually was quite some time ago. Correct me if I am wrong. Clicking through to the site of course he can just hover over the string and get the exact zulu time of the last visit. My search result says "Seen, 11 mins ago" and my points are at 4742, so the page is 24h old at least.

I find it rather interesting to see when somebody was seen last, as I can then judge their involvement a little better. But I agree: It would suffice to use words like "today", "yesterday" and so on.

2
  • Good point about the pages being cached. Sep 23 '09 at 10:41
  • It shows me I've been a member on SU for 20 days. It's actually 30+.
    – alex
    Sep 23 '09 at 11:04
14

Instead of removing the "last seen" information completely, what about the option of making it private, visible only to you (and maybe the moderators)? I myself would like a little more control over my privacy.

The "last seen" is kind of creepy, people can totally stalk you online with that kind of information. Not even Facebook provides that kind of information to users, only timestamps on whatever they post...Facebook does not make available the information that you logged in just to check your profile or whatever...

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    If this suggestion gets a downvote, can we at least know why?
    – user163250
    Jun 23 '11 at 6:44
  • 18
    I didn't DV, but it would be pointless to make it visible only to you. The feature is used so others know whether you're still engaged in the site. Maybe to get feedback on a question or something like that.
    – JohnP
    Jun 23 '11 at 6:54
  • 2
    @JohnP I can see how that would be useful, but what if I don't want to be available like that? I'd like to be able to control whether or not I make myself available to other people like that.
    – user163250
    Jun 23 '11 at 7:00
  • 6
    yeah, an option to hide/enable it would be nice. I'd +1 that.
    – JohnP
    Jun 23 '11 at 7:06
  • 1
    So, I checked, and apparently this has come up before, Please make the “seen” entry optional.
    – user163250
    Jun 28 '11 at 21:21
  • The information can still be pulled out of the profile page from the activity page. And read-only access can be performed while logged out. Sep 2 '14 at 9:14
  • @JohnDvorak No; "last seen" counts page views as well.
    – wizzwizz4
    May 1 '19 at 21:00
  • 1
    The fact this answer was left by a now removed account speaks volumes.
    – user692942
    Aug 9 at 8:12
6

Google is only correct for a minute though. It still says "6 mins ago" but you profile now says "38 mins ago".

Don't see that it matters anyway, all it tells you is that you're probably at a computer somewhere in the world right now.

0

I've just noticed that someone can Google my name and instantly know If I'm on Stack Overflow, because it shows the "seen 6 minutes ago."

Change your display name so that it is not your real name. Problem solved. If you are concerned about privacy, why even let people know what web sites you are a member of?

-3

I support this with regard to the 'last seen' display on SE profile pages. It should be removed, or at least the users should be given the option to hide this personal information.

See similar requests:

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