I'm posting this from an anonymous account for privacy reasons.

I understand that, should I remove my account, content remains available. However, there are many references to my username scattered across the network. This username is my full name and is unique.

Should I request to have my account deleted, do I have the right for such references in posts and comments by others to be anonymized (since they allow tracing posts back to me)?

What about references which only contain the first or the last name (for which it would still be reasonably clear that I'm being referred to)?

At the risk of sounding repetitive, this question is about posts of others referencing me, not about my own posts.

For what it's worth, I would completely understand if not all references can be retrieved automatically; in these cases I could collect them manually and send a list.

  • 2
    I think it should be possible to replace "John Doe" by "User620554". The meaning is not lost but your identity is.
    – aloisdg
    Oct 1, 2019 at 12:44
  • @aloisdg yes, that was my intention as well. I will clarify the post.
    – user620554
    Oct 1, 2019 at 12:47
  • chat also has some sort of anonymous in the sidebar, but not in actual transcript. let me get the link. Anonymized chat messages are now searchable by user. You didnt mention chat, but I assume you participated.
    – anki
    Oct 1, 2019 at 12:50
  • @Trilarion thanks, but not really - that's about posts authored by yourself. I'm asking about references to me by others.
    – user620554
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:10
  • I think the accepted answer in that question does answer your question too (see "Can I just have the content deleted?"). Oct 1, 2019 at 13:11
  • 1
    @Trilarion I'm not asking for content to be removed. I'm asking for references to my username to be edited to something anonymous.
    – user620554
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:17
  • @ JohnDoe you are the one whom tagged your question with the tag deleted-accounts. The change you propose still makes this a duplicate. In addition, when your account is "deleted" nothing is deleted except your name; we keep almost all your posts, some downvoted posts might go.
    – Rob
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:23
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    @JohnDoe Exchanging something with something includes a removal of content. But I agree that you have a special request and it should be decided by the network on it's own. While I still say that the general case is clear and you and others gave the network an irrevocable permission to use your name and there is no such right as you suggest, they might still do it out of courtesy. Names are surely rather unimportant for the content of the site. You depend here on the good will of the network. Oct 1, 2019 at 13:24
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    @Rob my question is indeed related to deleted-accounts. I am aware (and wrote so) that the content remains on the network. It remains that my question is not answered in the post you linked, and it is honestly completely unclear to me why you would think otherwise. Perhaps you could cite the exact sentence that answers my question whether my username can be edited out of other folks' posts?
    – user620554
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:29
  • 1
    Someone else can mark it a duplicate of this, Comments aren't updated after account removal - removing every mention of your name by everyone everywhere is status-declined.
    – Rob
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:32
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    The relevant section of the ToS might be stackoverflow.com/legal/privacy-policy under the paragraph "YOUR CHOICE AND CONTROL OF THE INFORMATION WE COLLECT ON YOU" (sorry for the upper case, that's how it is printed on the website). Oct 1, 2019 at 13:35
  • 1
    @Rob thanks for that link. That is the same question indeed, but perhaps it needs revisiting after GDPR etc. I'm not a lawyer, I don't know if it has applications for US companies with users in the EU (which I am).
    – user620554
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:37
  • 1
    @Rob I've edited to incorporate to be extra clear about what posts are concerned. I won't close as a duplicate, because, as I said, I'd like a post-GDPR perspective.
    – user620554
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:46
  • 1
    @ JohnDoe - I've retracted my CV, and deleted my first and last comment (leaving the middle one). In addition to your last edit you would benefit from adding the tags: network-profile and real-name, if you check those tags within the first dozen hits of each there's a Q&A that's related, IIRC the ~8th and ~6th (or so, along with others much further down) explain the downfalls of using your real name. Not "dupes", but things you should know about using your real name.
    – Rob
    Oct 1, 2019 at 14:37

1 Answer 1


According to the privacy policy, the answer is no, because you have chosen to publicize the information and it hence can no longer be considered private. The relevant provision is this:

Please be aware that when using the Public Question and Answer Network, you cannot revoke permission for Stack Overflow to publish and to allow others to have derivative rights to such public content once it is made public. The content you contribute on the public network is public, in perpetuity, and Stack Overflow loses direct control over such content when it is published on the open internet. This also means that if you post personal information about yourself, you do so at your own risk, including the risk of abandoning any privacy rights you had in such information.

Whether or not there are any legal provisions which override the privacy policy is something I do not think any of us can know without knowing the relevant jurisdiction. It seems doubtful that any such law would exist in a jurisdiction which has protections for the freedom of speech though, since it would effectively prevent any discussion regarding you. Granted, there are limitations on freedom of speech exist, but those laws are also restricted by freedom of speech protections, for example there might be anti-defamation laws requiring Stack Exchange to remove or redact libel, but it does not constitute defamation to make a true or otherwise privileged claim about a person. There is a fine balance to such things, but removing any and all mention of you by all members of the network regarding information that you published yourself irrespective of other considerations seems to exceed such bounds in my personal unprofessional opinion.

However, it should also be noted that you can probably get most comments about you deleted if you flag them. Comments are only ever meant to be temporary, and last just so long as they are useful to the post which remains under them. It is highly probable that most comments directly aimed at you have outlived their usefulness after you have read them. Granted, there is no guarantee that flagged comments will be removed but flagging as many as you can can help reduce the odds that somebody will be able to make an association between a username and the permanently identifying number assigned to each account, especially since I am under the impression that comments are nonsearchable anyway, meaning that somebody would have to come across it by chance or have already memorized it.

Regarding the G.D.P.R., there is right to erasure of personal data, which includes both names and online pseudonyms, but it is circumstantial. Going into detail is a little overly complicated, but it only applies to a restricted class of data controllers and processors, and even then it is not absolute. Limitations apply to protect various public interests, including legal obligations, public health/safety, historic/scientific archives and most relevantly the freedom of speech. You can read a webpage regarding the right to erasure from the I.C.O. and Article 17 of the G.D.P.R. as a starting point for more information.

  • 1
    The question mentions the GDPR specifically and the asker's states that he resides in the EU. Could you maybe comment on if this makes a difference? There might be privacy provisions in there that go beyond the general privacy policy of SO and that might apply to him or her. Oct 1, 2019 at 22:03
  • Thanks for figuring this out. @Trilarion I'm afraid the GDPR aspect cannot be answered with public information and SE is probably currently swamped/unwilling to look at this at the moment. So I've gone around and edited my username out, flagging "no longer needed" comments for removal, and will have to accept that the revision history and some leftover comments still contain the old username. Thanks, both!
    – user620554
    Oct 2, 2019 at 15:38
  • @JohnDoe Not only his. Unfortunately your name will also remain in the historic data dumps of SE on the Internet Archive. But manual flagging/editing seems like the max of what one can do. Oct 2, 2019 at 17:32
  • @Trilarion yep, true :(
    – user620554
    Oct 3, 2019 at 7:00

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