How to handle an anonymized user wanting to gain access back to their account?

If a previously Anonymized user ask to join again, could we replace his Anon12345 handle with a new one so that all his old posts are associated with his account?

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If you know the anonymous account that was associated with the user’s previous account, you could ask them to signup for a new account on the site. You could then merge the old anonymous account into their new account.

Unless an account was anonymized by mistake, I would be somewhat reluctant to merge an anonymized account into a new account. It feels like it defeats the purpose of anonymization.


I totally understand. I will simply give them their Anon# when they leave in case they want to come back. They were very estimated contributors so even if the posts are anonymized, for old community members, it is easy to recognize who could have made such post.


I agree with @Cécile_Savoie. Here’s a real use-case: something happens in a community and Alice wants to leave, asking Staff to remove her account. Some admin suspends the user and anonymizes Alice’s posts. The community reaches out to Alice, fixes the problem, and invites Alice back. The admin can then restore her posting history.


That’s good to know. I wouldn’t want anyone using this process to erase their history without very good reason.

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You still need to know whose posts they are. In a large community that might be problematic. Maybe leaving a staff note might be useful.

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While I agree this is a good to restore someone’s identity to posts they’ve made before being anonymized, there’s always that right to be forgotten thing that could get in the way. By keeping a staff note as to whose identity belongs to which anonymized user, then a user who wants to be forgotten isn’t really forgotten. :thinking: I still like the idea behind this though. It’s good for someone who quits a forum out of anger or whatever, has regrets, and then wants to be reinstated without losing their replies.


Even if the user didn’t explicitly ask to be forgotten under the GDPR, I believe the principals of GDPR and data-minimisation could still raise questions as to why, for what purpose and for how long you are retaining the record of the persons identity. The site privacy statement may need to say something like “we keep original user names for 30 days after anonymisation in case people change their mind” to be water tight.

For me, sometimes people ask to rage-quit, and we normally send something polite back, try and understand the situation and/or moderate it, and ask they wait until the next day to be sure as it really is irreversible. Sometimes people have calmed down and hang around, sometimes we still end up having to irreversibly anonymise them and usually follow up by trying to remove mentions and other things which aren’t automatically caught (e.g. references to the old username without an @).


I don’t know much about GDPR, but is it really necessary to remove all mention of the anonymized user? It’s not their content (unless they @mention themselves?), and the username is gone.

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Well Dan Eastwood, someone might mention a user name in a reply in such a way that it could potentially defeat anonymisation. For example, if you were to be anonymised here on meta, this post could now link posts from the new anonxyz number with your original name.

I’m not a lawyer, but the legislation talks about putting personal data ‘beyond use’. If the original author of posts can be easily determined, I don’t think it meets anonymisation as required by this ‘right to be forgotten’. Therefore I to try and locate any such references and remove them from a site when a member is anonymised - though normally users come at this from the point of requesting that everything be deleted, so I’m already somewhat on the backfoot trying to explain that’s not possible and anonymisation is the compliant option.

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Here’s something I wouldn’t want to have to do. Say a user is very active on a great number of topics and many posts in those topics have him mentioned by name (without the @ sign). That would mean you would have to search for the user’s name and do something with it (change it?) in every post of every topic.

This begs the question: Would every newspaper and government office have to do the same thing - remove that person’s name from news articles and from public records? Ouch!

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Well search engines are sometimes required to remove results or listings under EU law so I think it’s applicable to at least check the Discourse search results and clean them up too, if needed, and for a public forum.

Practically this hasn’t been a huge problem for me to date as there aren’t that many people quitting and asking to be anonymised, and those that do tend not to have engaged that much anyway.

Legally there are plenty of things that can waste an admin’s time though!


I don’t know much about GDPR, but I’m reasonable sure the intent is not to erase every trace of my existence. :wink:

Others could be having a discussion involving me or about me, even after I was anonymized, and that’s a public record. I don’t think it can be a forum admins responsibility to police the content of others or edit a public record. I think if someone had good reason, like being stalked or harassed online, they could reasonably request all such mentions be removed, but that’s a different sort of problem.

This is helpful, from “Definitions” in Article 4 of the GDPR:

  1. ‘pseudonymisation’ means the processing of personal data in such a manner that the personal data can no longer be attributed to a specific data subject without the use of additional information, provided that such additional information is kept separately and is subject to technical and organisational measures to ensure that the personal data are not attributed to an identified or identifiable natural person;

And now I know just a little bit more about the GDPR. :wink:


Some ser

Some serious Cascade_on_delete goin on there.
As for newspaper/govt offices, well, they’d be taking our jobs as they become experts in traversing nodes removing traces of us


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