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To opt out of mandatory arbitration and retain the right to participate in a class action, the terms of service state:

Your written notification must be mailed to us at Stack Overflow, Attn: Legal Department, 110 William Street, Floor 28, New York, NY 10038 or by email notification at team (at) stackoverflow.com. (…) Such notification must include: (i) your name; (ii) your email address and mailing address; (…)

So we have a choice between waiving legal rights, and revealing our name and address? This is a problem.

I understand why the waiver is based on a name and address rather than an account: it's a legal agreement between the person who has agreed to the terms of service and Stack Exchange, Inc., not a property of the account. However, it is deeply disturbing that one cannot be both anonymous and legally protected.

Please change the terms of service to allow opting out of mandatory arbitration by identifying oneself only as “the owner of Stack Exchange account NNNN”.

(I'm quite willing to believe that you weren't trying to expand your data collection at your expense, you just weren't paying attention. But it's quite a big thing not to pay attention to, and you should not have changed the terms of service until you understood your own terms of service! The current terms of service are strongly Evil. Please fix them before this evil can have concrete consequences, i.e. well within 30 days from the change. Of course, a better fix would be to make arbitration opt-in instead of opt-out, as it is by law in the EU.)

  • Given that this post says that you can opt out just by sending a contact from your own account without providing any additional info, I'm going to assume it was a mistake. – Sonic the Anonymous WizHog May 23 '18 at 23:39
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    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog I do think it was a mistake, but it's what the terms of service say. The legal agreement is the terms of service, not what some employee of the company says on meta. If you don't provide your name and mailing address, then you haven't opted out and would be bound to arbitration (unless protected by your national law). – Gilles May 23 '18 at 23:49
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    This concerns me as well. I do not know if, legally speaking, opting out requires nothing more than explicitly stating intention to do so, or if it requires following the specific steps outlined in the ToS. It would be quite troubling if a court dismissed legal action even in the face of overwhelming evidence that my intention was to opt out (say, a PGP-signed and TSA-timestamped message in my public profile) simply because I did not do so in the way SE wanted me to. – forest May 24 '18 at 1:42
  • As of yesterday, Tim Post was apparently still "looking into all of it". – sumelic May 24 '18 at 2:02
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    yep, @sumelic, most of us probably know that. The problem is that most of us also seem to agree that this had to be "looked into" BEFORE it went live. – SPArchaeologist May 24 '18 at 8:15
  • Just a side note, if you don’t use a VPN service to acces SO, SE possibly already know near what street you live. Providing that address can just validate those log entry vs the account owner for them, a guess – yagmoth555 May 25 '18 at 1:22
  • If you don't use a VPN, and it involved court action, they'll just subpoena your ISP to find out where you live. If you did use a VPN, you'll likely find you're breaking the ToS anyway (I haven't checked). – djsmiley2k May 25 '18 at 11:48
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    @forest FWIW, receiving the e-mail reminded me that I had not actually opted out yet, so I immediately proceeded to do so using the profile link method Tim had indicated on Meta. I shortly received an e-mail from Stack with the text "Hello, Your request has been processed, and there's nothing else needed on your part. Let us know if you need anything else." (emphasis added). IANAL, but I would hope an affirmation like this that I had opted out correctly would have at least some weight with the courts. – jmbpiano May 25 '18 at 15:54
  • @jmbpiano just a confirmation. You meant that you sent a mail to team asking to opt out and just provider your profile link instead of your name? – SPArchaeologist May 28 '18 at 9:55
  • @SPArchaeologist That's correct. The subject was "opt out of arbitration" and the body was a link to my network profile. In hindsight, they would have been able to see my name in the "From" line of the e-mail, but I did not actively provide an address or any other information. – jmbpiano May 29 '18 at 21:21
  • I'm checking with legal folks now. It's definitely not an attempt to expand on what we collect, I think it's just 'standard legalese' and we need to include it. – Tim Post May 31 '18 at 13:34
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Well, you can't sue someone anonymously, or even ask them to arbitration anonymously. If a legal action from Jonathan Q. Public is initiated, we'd need to be able to check if Jonathan had indeed opted out.

This gets particularly mucky because I want to help here, but I can't offer you legal advice. My first response has got to be that we can't change the text - it's just a legal thing.

If you want to opt-out giving only your full name (we need that, at a minimum to honor your opt-out), you're welcome to take that risk. In the event that you encountered a matter that you wanted to bring before a court, we might not be able to correlate your request to opt out with the named account(s).

At your own risk is the sign I need to hold up here, while reiterating that we love you and want good things for you and sincerely hope that if we did something wrong to you, it wouldn't need to reach any kind of litigation in order for us to make it right.

That's all I can say.

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    The problem once again is that there was a miss communication somewhere along the line. The now live ToS state you have to provide those data.. but the original Meta post that announced the electronic opt out option stated that "Send an e-mail to team@stackoverflow.com with the subject of 'opt out of arbitration' and a link to your profile in the body. That's it, we'll handle everything from there. You'll get confirmation back via email.". Sorry, Tim, but this post now somehow raise my concerns instead of putting them to rest... (continue) – SPArchaeologist May 31 '18 at 15:56
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    Are you now telling me that you aren't sure that the opt out mail that were sent accordly to the original announcement (and maybe BEFORE the new ToS went public) could possibly hold no legal value because "we might not be able to correlate your request to opt out with the named account(s)."? – SPArchaeologist May 31 '18 at 15:59
  • @SPArchaeologist a note, keep the email you received back as the proof. – yagmoth555 May 31 '18 at 16:08
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    @SPArchaeologist I was getting information back out to folks as quickly as I was getting it from our legal team. Requests made prior to the latest version of our ToS going out have already been tagged to accounts (or we've responded saying we couldn't find one); no need to worry. Going forward, we need folks to follow the given instructions. We'll do our best to accommodate folks that don't give the info requested, but we can't (going forward) offer any reasonable guarantee. – Tim Post May 31 '18 at 18:28
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    Then, please, consider removing the line about giving just your profile link from the post here since users may still see that post before reading the new ToS. Sadly, I do think that right now your post has much more visibility than the new actual requirements. – SPArchaeologist Jun 1 '18 at 7:59
  • So… I know lawyers aren't fast, but it has been 6–8 months. Any updates? – Gilles Apr 14 at 0:10
  • @Gilles No. We can't provide a means to opt-out of the clause anonymously, it's simply not something that works in our legal system. Opting out is tied to the person, which (by extension) encompasses any number of accounts they might control. If someone files suit against us, we need to know who they are and correlate any accounts they claimed by opting out (some keep a professional and personal account, some use another account for teams, etc). It's just not a scenario we can support. – Tim Post Apr 16 at 12:40
  • So the only reason I still have a Stack Exchange account is that I'd already given you my address to get some T-shirt. I feel really bad about this. – Gilles Apr 16 at 16:34
  • @Gilles I don't want you going anywhere, but we don't have your address any longer unless you really recently gave it to us. We pretty regularly purge any kind of document that collects form submissions or such just because having that stuff is a liability. That said, I feel horrible that you feel horrible, I hope you can relate to that. I also hate our legal system for what it is and what it enables. I can't promise anything but I'll see if there's anything else I can think of. – Tim Post Apr 16 at 17:43

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