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Stackexchange seems to try very hard to hold on to your identity. In particular, even if you delete all cookies and log out, it still somehow often remembers who you are. If you have multiple people using the same computer and different stackexchange sites it can all get very confused and confusing. Each individual stackexchange site tries to hold on to your identity and will sometimes even overrule the identity which you have just used to log in with.

Is it possible to have a nice clean "switch user id" option which logs you out of all stackexchange sites and gives you the new id you are logging in with?

I understand there may be some risk of abuse but it's not clear to me why it would be any easier to abuse a clean and consistent system then the currently rather confused one.

To clarify, my use case is for multiple people using the same computer (and browser).

However, it is also worth noting that gmail, for example, both provides a "change user" function and also explicitly makes life easier for people you have multiple accounts open on the same browser (see https://support.google.com/mail/answer/1721977?hl=en) . There are perfectly innocent reasons to want to do this.


Slight clarification. Really this feature request just boils down to a "log out" that actually logs you out and doesn't try to remember who you were after that. A "log out from all stackexchange sites" option would be particularly good.

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  • It shouldn't be easy for people to have multiple accounts – John Dvorak Sep 13 '14 at 17:07
  • @JanDvorak I understand what you mean but currently it's not hard and cookies system doesn't prevent you from doing it. You just end up in a confused state quite often. – user270465 Sep 13 '14 at 17:08
  • Not sure what you mean by "confused state" – John Dvorak Sep 13 '14 at 17:09
  • @JanDvorak For example, your user id in chat becomes userXXXX but your user id in the main stackexchange is your real name but when you log into another stackexchange site with the same name and password you find you are logged in as someone completely different. – user270465 Sep 13 '14 at 17:10
  • Why would multiple people use the same profile in the same browser using the same OS account on the same PC? That's just stupid and calls for trouble. Especially since the first two things can be easily changed without any kind of elevated access to the machine! – ThiefMaster Sep 14 '14 at 9:41
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    @ThiefMaster It is not so rare as you would expect. People in families for example often have a PC which is shared during the day with a single account. Most OSes don't, in any case, offer you an easy way to save the current state (open windows etc.) and switch user seamlessly so people don't log out and back in just to perform simple tasks. You are right that having separate web browser profiles would also work as a solution. I would also point you to the slightly separate use cases for having multiple gmail accounts which I think are relevant here. – user270465 Sep 14 '14 at 11:43
  • -1, too easy for spammers to take advantage of. If you have this need, simply use the privacy option of your browser (incognito in Chrome, for example) and log in. Nobody steps on anybody's toes. – user1228 Sep 16 '14 at 15:04
  • @Won't What about the current system of piecemeal logouts hinders spammers? – user270465 Sep 16 '14 at 15:09
  • Sorry, meant to say sockpuppeteers. – user1228 Sep 16 '14 at 15:44
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I understand the use case you presented, but I do not think that an easy way to switch identities would be a good solution.

There are existing solutions to multi-user computer usage

All modern OSes I know of (including Windows since at least XP, OS X, and popular desktop Linux distributions) allow multiple users to be logged in at the same time. This allows users to quickly switch to another account, while the first account runs in the background. Multi-user support is even starting to be “a thing” in the mobile world. In a multi-user scenario, multiple accounts are a must. This prevents other users from deleting your files, and enables parents to restrict their children's accounts.

Even some browsers have a concept of identity. You can e.g. connect a Chrome browser with one or more Google accounts. An avatar appears in the tab bar, which you can click to change identities. Each identity has separate history, cookies, and add-ons.

The benefits don't outweigh the cost

On the Stack Exchange sites where I'm active, there is a constant struggle to maintain an enjoyable level of quality. There are many tools available such as rate limits, down votes, close votes, and bans. A “switch identity” option would encourage circumventing rate limits and bans, and would make it easier to maintain sock puppet accounts to affect voting. Of course: where's there a will, there's a way. But do we have to make it so easy to circumvent the moderation system?

The merits of this proposal

  • I understand why you perceive the current identity management as “confusing”, especially how identity across the SE network is currently managed. Unfortunately this is complicated by the fact that the SE network is distributed across multiple domains (source).

  • Better identity management could mean that I would be able to log into different SE sites at the same time using different accounts. Example scenario: Freddy lists his Stack Overflow account in his résumé when applying for a developer role. A prospective employer looks at the connected accounts on other sites, and finds Freddy's struggle with his previous boss in The Workplace, and details about his sexual orientation on Sex and Intimacy (if that proposal gets launched). If Freddy had been able to use multiple accounts without too much hassle, he could have kept his professional and his private identities separate.

    However, that's a topic for another question.

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  • Thanks for this detailed answer. I however don't really understand what you see the costs to be. I mean it's much easier for a bot to delete cookies than it is for a human. What is the risk that providing a clean "log out" would incur? – user270465 Sep 14 '14 at 17:04
  • @Lembik SE does a good job of keeping bots out. The real problem is help vampires: users that post their problems (often homework) without any effort of their own, and expect others to solve them. Their questions get downvoted and closed, and if they don't smarten up they get banned. The more stubborn of these repost their questions on other sites of the network, or create a new account. In this case, a moderator has to manually figure out that the two accounts are the same, and take further measures. This is annoying and time-consuming, so creating duplicate accounts should not be made easy. – amon Sep 14 '14 at 17:45
  • Ok I get that but how does the current system make that difficult ? It's easy to post, log out, wipe cookies, restart browser and iterate if you are malicious. Malicious people don't care about a little inconvenience. – user270465 Sep 14 '14 at 17:49

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