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How complete can the deletion of SE accounts be?

Would the SE database still keep some of the user data? More specifically:

  • email addresses that were used for logging in;

  • IP addresses;

  • activity records;

  • cookies.

I understand that after deletion (of all one's SE accounts), one's old posts would still be on the site with userxxxxx in grey. But other than that, I am wondering if all other things are completely erased.

[Added.] The combination of email addresses and IP addresses is a big concern of security and privacy. One may not want SE to keep such information if one wants to leave SE completely.

[Added later.] I noticed this recent meta post: We’ve made changes to our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy - January 2022 Particularly, one can request for "Permanently erase the personal data associated with your account or email address." I am wondering how completely such "erase" can be done.

Note: I did not find the needed information in the following two posts (for instance, "IP addresses" are not mentioned):

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3 Answers 3

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Some people do fall foul of the sites rules

  • they post spam
  • they end up question or answer banned for continually posting poorly received content
  • they end up suspended by moderators for being rude or abusive.

The temptation is then for these people to delete their account and create a new one so they can carry on with their unwanted behaviour.

In order to counteract this Stack Exchange needs to keep enough information e.g. your email address that they can link your old account to your new account and reinstate the penalty you're supposed to be serving. So to answer your question, no everything isn't erased because there are valid reasons to keep some information about what you've been up to. If you delete all your accounts that's just the process of deleting one account repeated for each account you have so it doesn't change anything more than that.

Stack Exchange also uses software called SpamRam to destroy spam. That software looks at IP addresses in an attempt to deny spammers who continually create new accounts from being able to post spam.

Cookies however are things that are stored on your computer, not on Stack Exchange servers. If you don't delete them locally, they may stick around.

gnat provided the link to a post by a user who deleted and recreated an account and then complained about still being question banned.

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  • Thanks for your answer. With all due respect, where do you learn this information from? I was expecting an official answer or anyone who knows the "official info". It is not very clear how much "enough information" is from your answer. Regarding the "valid reasons", there is a concern with security and privacy. If that (keeping records of old emails, etc.) was really the case, then one would need to destroy/abandon one's emails used with SE completely.
    – user172557
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 15:51
  • Inferred from the link you posted in the question. I.e. the Will deleting my account clear any restrictions placed on my account? part. Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 15:53
  • If you are referring to this link (I have two links) I'm not sure if that applies to the case I am asking. They are probably talking about the deletion of one specific SE account. I mean to ask for a complete deletion of all SE accounts.
    – user172557
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 15:58
  • @RobertLongson I think here is an example complaint that hasn't been deleted and managed to receive an official answer with the explanation of how the anti-recidivism-system works
    – gnat
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 17:42
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These are retained after deletion: Association Bonus bit, bounties, maybe votes cast, migrated posts, denormalized user name, and at-replies using your name in comments, along with information retained for administrative purposes such as IP address, email, and server logs.

In response to this comment, regular users can answer questions: Robert Longson and myself have answered quite a few.

Source: How can I delete my account?

 

Your question: "How complete can the deletion of SE accounts be?"

In their blog post "Privacy is an afterthought in the software lifecycle. That needs to change." Cillian Kieran writes that it's ironically legally required to keep sufficient information to identify your account, in case you request that your information be deleted.

By retaining a record of the deletion they can prove (legally) that they have respected your request and complied with privacy laws. Otherwise you or the authorities could challenge that the law was not being correctly followed, and the reply would be that we destroyed the evidence (proof). Sufficient information must be retained to identify the account that was deleted.

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A good rule of thumb is to expect that all data that would be helpful to prevent abuse is retained even after deletion. Moderators have some access to this information, and employees have a little more.


There are actually two types of deletion.

Regular deletion keeps some information in the system. A lot of people are tempted to get their account deleted so that they can escape their post ban or suspension. However, that won't work and it will just be applied to the new account (unless you waited long enough — no matter if you have an account or not, a year suspension will end a year later). I'm not sure the specifics of how this matching works and you probably won't find that publicly available either. I expect that the same type of data is stored even for users who didn't have any penalties on them when they request deletion.

Moderators have two ways to perform this type of deletion. This is also the type of deletion that happens when a user requests deletion.

The other type of deletion is done for underage users because most of their data can't legally be retained. When a moderator discovers such a user, they must escalate the case to the Community Managers to perform the deletion. A similar thing also applies when a user requests their account be removed under a GDPR erasure request: CMs perform the deletion using the same procedure as for underage users.

In either of these situations, the publicly displayed name associated with the old content is "user####" (except for deletions performed in early 2012 or earlier). If you're resourceful enough, you can get a list of a deleted user's non-deleted contributions with that information alone, and sometimes even the account's previous name(s), from comments left by other users.

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    Regarding the last paragraph and CC BY-SA attribution: when a user requests deletion, they're also required to simultaneously request that their attribution be removed from all their prior contributions, which the licenses (2.5, 3.0, and 4.0) allow. In the case of deletions by mods and CMs, those are usually only done to users who have no visible contributors. Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 18:10

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