The new terms of service announced recently include an arbitration clause. The new terms specify that one can opt out of arbitration by sending a letter including their name and their mailing address to Stack Overflow.

So far users have been able to use the site equally whether they wish to use their real name (as I do) or remain completely anonymous. I find this a cornerstone of an online community like this. But now this has changed: It appears that an anonymous user has to disclose personal information to opt out of arbitration and gain better legal protection should anything go awry.

How can a user opt out and still remain anonymous? Is it possible at all? And if there is a way, how do you identify the user?

I wanted to ask about this specific situation separately, as it is not covered by the other question about opting out.

  • 2
    From what I understand, you (the person) can opt out no matter which accounts you hold. So in theory you can opt out, but not let the SE know which user you were. There is a mention (in the ToS) that you have to include your email address, but I've never seen mentioned that it has to be one of the addresses associated to the account, or that you can't associate the address to the account later. However, I'm not a lawyer.
    – yo'
    May 3, 2018 at 14:45
  • 3
    @yo' That means that the opt-out is not about user accounts but about persons. If that's indeed the case, it would be nice to have someone from the company to confirm it. Sounds reasonable, but I'm no lawyer either. But still, people would have to approach SE under their real identity and tell they want no arbitration. May 3, 2018 at 14:51
  • 5
    Well, a user account is not a legal entity, so the account cannot take any legal action; it's the guy sitting in front of the computer who is a legal entity. Also the ToS are part of a contract between you (the person) and SE (the company). However, this still pretty much needs a confirmation from the Powers.
    – yo'
    May 3, 2018 at 14:53
  • Maybe I'm missing something, but if you are truly anonymous, as in the company has no personal data about you, then how exposed to harm are you really? What would you take them to court over? May 3, 2018 at 18:15
  • 6
    @BrianStamper You might decide to give up anonymity at some later point, but your window of opportunity for opt-out will have closed. May 3, 2018 at 18:24
  • 5
    @BrianStamper - At some point in the future Stack Overflow might get bought by some other company, say Facebook or Oracle or Verizon, with whom I might have some unrelated legal issue, but find myself bound by a forced arbitration clause with their newly purchased subsidiary. Or Stack Overflow might enter Chapter 7 bankruptcy and, when their assets are sold off, our information is purchased by a legal troll firm who think they can make some quick bucks by forcing all of us into arbitration for frivolous reasons.
    – dbc
    May 3, 2018 at 18:31
  • @BrianStamper - How anonymous are we really? Even though I don't give my real name on my contact page, I'm not accessing Stack Overflow through the Tor network or anything like that, so if Stack Overflow really wanted to determine my identity I'm sure they could one way or another. And in the future it might get easier if my ISP decides to start selling my identity.
    – dbc
    May 3, 2018 at 18:33
  • 3
    I'd like to know the answer to this as well. Specifically, does the email address in the snail-mail opt-out have to match my Stack Overflow sign-up email address? Does it have to be a "permanent" email address, or can it be a temporary address? What is the privacy policy for the email address used for opting out? Can it be used for spamming or other marketing purposes?
    – dbc
    May 3, 2018 at 18:37
  • 3
    As an anonymous user myself, I dislike the requirement of having to send a written mail to the company. I really do hope they succeed in making it digital (or better yet, removing the abusive arbitration clause all together!) May 4, 2018 at 0:07


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