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I was forced to login to Meta Stack Exchange to be able to login to Area51. Is this expected?

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Yes, this is by design and therefore expected. The same is true for logging in to https://chat.stackexchange.com. I quote Nick Craver (Architecture Lead) from this answer

We changed the way Area51 login works a few months ago to route through meta.stackexchange.com as part of several steps to unify our login system

A few months ago would have been October 2018 or so but I can't find the actual date or announcement on that. Maybe Nick or Adam can edit that in if they stumble on this answer.

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