Note: Not a duplicate of Is a refusal to disassociate deleted posts in compliance with the CC BY-SA license?. As its title says, that question has to do with the case where the post involved was already deleted. This has to do with non-deleted posts only.

It's been clear for a while that users who haven't posted very much may have their dissociation requests declined, with a request to delete their account instead.

However, I believe that as contributions to SE sites are under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license, Stack Exchange is legally required to accept all dissociation requests.

I've seen one documented case where a dissociation request was denied; the author later deleted their account, presumably because they were told to do so by the employee who declined the request.

Is this practice legal and within the parameters of the CC BY-SA license? If the user deletes their account, their user ID number will still be attached to it, so it may still identify them and not completely remove the main public attribution as required by the license. (On the other hand, when a post is dissociated, the username is removed entirely and replaced with "anon".)

Or is the "please delete account instead" message not an outright refusal, but rather just an alternate suggestion, and if the user insists on it or cites the license, the request is completed?

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    I did it once in the past, erased my account in a site to dissaciate myself from a post, so +1, as refusal do sadly happen, and I don’t understand why – yagmoth555 Oct 30 '18 at 20:20
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    In which jurisdiction do you plan to bring a lawsuit? Questions of legality are difficult for non-lawyers to discuss constructively. Maybe it would be good to rephrase your question as “in keeping with the spirit of” or some other way. – ColleenV Oct 30 '18 at 20:22
  • @ColleenV I want an official response from SE that shows the official position of their legal team. Hence tagged support – Sonic the K-Day Hedgehog Oct 30 '18 at 20:35

If disassociating would result in the profile having no more posts attached, then we always suggest the user just delete their profile instead, flat-out. Using the disassociation tool to leave a profile in the same state it would be as if they deleted it and recreated it is not worthwhile. The user can do that themselves.

The only other case where we would tell the user to delete their profile instead is if they are blatantly abusing the disassociation service, and they have reached the point where we are not willing to continue removing their name from posts without taking more restrictive action to prevent further abuse. This case is more of an ultimatum: if you're going to continue contributing and then demanding your name be removed in violation of the spirit of network contributions, we are going to terminate your account and not deal with you anymore. Suggesting the user delete their profile instead is essentially a way of pushing that decision onto the user: you can either stop these abusive requests, or delete your profile to complete them. This is an incredibly rare option, and you can probably count the number of times it's happened on one hand.

As far as the user string goes, there's really no argument to be had there. Keep in mind that any user can pretty much always figure out who posted something anyways. Disassociation is mostly a formality - something that is required by the license and we must do but rarely achieves anything close to what it is meant to achieve. Arguing that a userX string might still connect back to them is a bit of a moot point when anyone could just go find an archived copy of the post - they don't even need that string and having the string still requires the same amount of effort as not having it. We'd much rather reinforce the idea that there is no such thing as disassociation on the Internet. Removing your name only makes it harder to figure out.

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  • "no more posts attached"... How about if the user earned rep from suggested edits, that they'd like to keep? – Sonic the K-Day Hedgehog Oct 30 '18 at 20:40
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    @Sonic I'll let you know if that situation ever actually happens. Even the first case is still very rare. Don't overestimate how many of these actually happen in the wild. We're talking about the 0.01% edge cases here. – animuson Oct 30 '18 at 20:42
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    Also, is keeping the user code there still compliant with the license, however? What's the legal team's position on that? Finally, when you say "suggest", does this mean that if the user insists or cites the license, the dissociation will be carried out? – Sonic the K-Day Hedgehog Oct 30 '18 at 20:43
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    @Sonic We're not going to get a solid answer out of any legal team on that. I kind of doubt there's much case law on the specifics of how we handle user deletion in regards to the CC license, so any answer would be pure speculation with a "we'd have to see what happens in court." If we explicitly told a user their option is to delete their profile and they insisted, we would delete it for them. That's their request being completed. We're not here to play games with abusive users trying to pull our leg. – animuson Oct 30 '18 at 20:49
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    @Sonic Think of it this way: we consider a deletion request to be an implied request to be disassociated from all content as well. Every user is deletes their profile requested disassociation too. If our attorney thought this method of disassociation for deleted users was that problematic, he probably would have campaigned to have that process changed long ago. ;) – animuson Oct 30 '18 at 20:55
  • That definitely makes sense. – Sonic the K-Day Hedgehog Oct 30 '18 at 20:56

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