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The wording of this question on Cryptography Stack Exchange raises an interesting question on how to write questions (no pun intended):

[...] the manufacturer of a RSA key generation gizmo vulnerable to the new ROCA attack [...] explains that [...]

As written, this appears to be an explicit attempt to avoid mentioning the product manufacturer by name. To me, this circumlocution feels unnecessary but I have reason to believe that using more direct wording is potentially problematic.

  • Is there a specific reason the question is written this way?
  • If so, under what circumstances should I actively avoid mentioning a person or company by name?
  • What might the disadvantage be if the above sentence was phrased as:

    • the manufacturer of a cryptographic device with an RSA key generation algorithm vulnerable to the new ROCA attack [...] explains that

    • Infineon, whose TPMs were recently found to use an RSA key generation algorithm vulnerable to the new ROCA attack [...] explains that

    (The latter is how I likely would have been phrased it had I been the question author, absent the concerns raised in this question.)

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    I don't think there's any policy. Probably he did it in order to not give free advertisement to that product or something like that. – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Jun 8 '18 at 8:13
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    Leaving out names can sometimes help with keeping a discussion factual, as well as prevent mishap ("I found this HUGE exploit on the website of Intel") or damage to the Image of persons/companies involved. – Seth Jun 8 '18 at 8:18
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Is there a specific reason the question is written this way?

I think OP didn't find it relevant to name the company in this case. Without the company name, the question is still very clear. It doesn't need the company name to make it clear what the question is about.

Maybe the OP didn't want to give much free advertisement or prevent the company to get a bad name because of the mentioning in that particular question. It can also help to keep the comments on-topic, by preventing a flame war on a specific company (you know, Samsung vs. Apple, etc.).

If so, under what circumstances should I actively avoid mentioning a person or company by name?

Ask yourself if it is relevant to use the name. Does it add something meaningful to the question? If so, add it, otherwise you can leave it out.

What might the disadvantage be if the above sentence was phrased as...

See the above. The specific phrasing you proposed doesn't seem to harm, but for me it doesn't add anything relevant either.

  • I've edited the question to make the second example sentence more reflective of what I would have used had I not seen someone using this sort of circumlocution. – bwDraco Jun 8 '18 at 8:37
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    Still I don't think the company adds any value to the question. The link to the note is enough, right? – Patrick Hofman Jun 8 '18 at 8:43
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While the former example is mostly harmless compared to the question as written, the latter example (repeated below for clarity) is a clear case of what not to do when composing a question.

Infineon, whose TPMs were recently found to use an RSA key generation algorithm vulnerable to the new ROCA attack [...] explains that

This phrasing is a bad idea because:

  • The wording is accusative. It places undue emphasis on Infineon and gives the impression that Infineon is specifically at fault for the vulnerability, which can create an unproductive flame war in comments to the question or its answers.
  • It is not relevant to the question. The question does not ask about the product containing the vulnerable algorithm, its manufacturer, or even the nature of the ROCA attack as it relates to said algorithm. It is purely a question of what the algorithm is. This phrasing can easily cause the question to be misread, resulting in answers that do not address the question as intended.

In hindsight, this Meta question looks rather silly, but it nonetheless is a subtle nuance in question composition I would have missed had I not seen someone else do things differently.

To summarize, it's important to phrase questions to avoid putting unnecessary emphasis on irrelevant facts when the actual topic of the question is less than obvious.

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