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Ask HN: Will HN allow account and comment deletions?
126 points by _hyn3 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments
Ask HN: With the GDPR coming, the 'right to be forgotten', and the FB privacy flare-up, will HN ever allow comment and account deletions?



Honestly, this should never be allowed.

It’s archaeology-hostile. It pisses me off to no end when I am searching for information on reddit and come across people replying to deleted posts by some paranoid user who wishes comments were more ephemeral like Snapchat.

This is what the next dark age of mankind will be like, people from the future looking for historical information and finding nothing but deleted or decayed data.

Here’s a tip: if you don’t want something to be up for all time, don’t even bother posting it. Keep it to your self. There are a lot of damning things and incidents that could end people’s careers and reputations that I’ve never posted about because I do not want the permanent liability.

I feel like the art of staying anonymous has been lost on people. It’s not that hard.


Why not allow people to remove just the connection to their account but not the content itself?

We all make mistakes and say things we later regret, sure the content forms part of a bigger picture which should be preserved but shouldn’t we be allowed to tidy up our publicly available historic opinions if they don’t match who we are now?

I’m pretty careful in what I post on social media or on websites, but I’ve definitely said things in the past that I wish I hadn’t, both on and offline, and unless I were a person of significant public interest (such as a politician) I don’t think it’s important for those mistakes to be documented for eternity.


No one is forced to create a connection between their real identity to their account. I don't know why people insist on doing it and then later wanting to undo it.

In fact, if you don't want your anonymous account tied to you anymore in any way, sell it off to someone else. I bought this account for $500.


Trouble is how many connections you might have created accidentally. If you combine all of someone's posts together, many people have revealed enough information in total to figure out their true identity. Especially if they have a unique, google-able username that they have used on several different sites on different subjects, and you combine everything they've said on every site.

Of course, there are ways to throw some dirt into those gears, like posting fake details or trading/selling accounts every now and then...


Why did you buy that account for 500$?

And are you saying that the previous owner of the account is the one who didn't want it tied to him anymore, so he sold it to you (and you are therefore providing an anonymizing service to him?).


Knew the owner in real life. I liked the name and didn’t want to start off with an empty account with no karma. It’s mutual anonymization.


Ok, I don’t understand. Why would you buy that account?


Honestly, this should never be allowed.

I wouldn't go that far, though I am generally sympathetic to your overarching argument.

I wouldn't go that far in part because I'm a woman and women seem to attract stalkers a lot more than men. I was a homemaker for a long time and had a very private life. Trying to figure out how to interact effectively in the public sphere has been a struggle for me.

Part of that is me. Part of that is other people. People react differently to a woman than to a man.

So, on the one hand, I needed to figure out what I was simply doing wrong. On the other hand, I needed to figure out how to effectively navigate a situation that can, at times, be actively hostile and dangerous, even if I am not doing anything wrong. Those two things confound each other and I don't know of any good sources of instruction.

This has helped make me very aware that sometimes people get into real trouble and need extraordinary measures to help extract them from the mess.

I think those extraordinary measures should be made available at times. But I also think it should not be the default solution.

I generally agree with you that there are other approaches that we need to be pursuing that are more nuanced and that try to balance different concerns. I think gutting the value of a forum so that people can remove all their content at will on a whim can readily go bad places. I am not crazy about it as a policy/law.


Oh, hey! I was gonna say, your writing style seems familiar for some reason but I knew you by your previous handle. Nice to see you're still around


Nice to see you're still around

Thanks.

I went through a lot of changes in a short period of time and basically rebooted my entire internet life for various reasons. Some people have noticed I changed handles here and some haven't. To try to clear up any remaining confusion, I recently noted in my other profile that I am now posting under this handle.


> I think gutting the value of a forum so that people can remove all their content at will on a whim can readily go bad places.

Thankfully, there's a really easy solution that HN today will not consider/is not taking seriously enough: Just change the goddamn displayed username for each comment to "<deleted>" or whatever.

1) this kind of (seemingly; it's all a black box in reality though) naval-gazing-based decision making is exactly why the GDPR makes sense. We can't run our lives on the whims of a few random people.

2) Does YCombinator tell us all of this stuff when we sign up to HN? No. We have to find it out by ourselves. When we e-mail them to ask them to delete our contributions, since there's no delete button, they just say "sorry, we can't do that".

This kind of stuff is what the GDPR is good for.


GDPR is one of the reasons I’m hoping for the collapse of the EU.

If a US company has no physical presence in Europe I see no reason why they should comply with their bullshit.

And under a Trump administration... good luck.


I bet Poland and Hungry are next to leave. It's a sad, predictable situation, take away the people's ability to check their own government, it's almost a law of physics that next to go is free speech (now), and then... history repeats. The BREXIT vote shows they know, but it's to be seen if the British can turn this one around.


That's the beauty of it all.

Do you really think YCombinator has no EU exposure? It's a multi-billion dollar company.


Redacted so I can pointlessly make it a blog post without Google penalizing my blog like I am plagiarizing or something.


Please make this a blog post, you raise very interesting points.


http://gistofthegemini.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-gdpr-potenti...

There's your requested blog post. It's been slightly edited from the original (plus a few paragraphs tacked on to the end of it), so you can enjoy reading it a second time to look for the small differences between the blog post and what you remember of the comment.

(I have fixed multiple typos in the past few minutes. If you refresh, it might stop being gibberish.)


[flagged]


Hello HN poster with multiple handles and negative karma who keeps complaining about HNs unwillingness to comply with the GDPR, creating new accounts and cross referencing them yourself by self identifying that you are also these multiple other accounts.

FYI, the piece is not a rant.

Also FYI, I am talking about people like you. Your problem cannot be solved by the mods deleting your multiple cross referenced accounts that you complain you want deleted while continuing to make new handles and then voluntarily outing yourself each and every time. It just would create headaches for the mods while feeding your delusion that your behavior is not the issue and does not need to change.


I couldn't agree more. What's frustrating is that we seem to be getting the worst of both worlds too; privacy in the face of archeology and public memory, but complete lack thereof in the face of nation states and many companies. (yes yes "gdpr will solve this" that's another long and contentious discussion that I'm putting off for now.)

As et-al said in a sister comment, in "ye-olde-internet" pseudonyms and some degree of anonymity was de-facto. When the real-names policies first started coming out, there was real pushback. Nowadays I see much more sentiment towards having some central authorities to protect users, and it worries me as, among other things, a loss of agency and empowerment to protect onesself. (do not read this to say that there are spaces regulation isn't important; but pushing the line too far and normalizing a lack of awareness and ownership over your situation is a real risk if the pendulum swings too far)


>"Here’s a tip: if you don’t want something to be up for all time, don’t even bother posting it. Keep it to your self. There are a lot of damning things and incidents that could end people’s careers and reputations that I’ve never posted about because I do not want the permanent liability."

Do you feel it is reasonable to ask this of adolescents who might disregard or circumvent measures their parents put in place (if they even have them)? They are not yet aware of what consequences this can have or the magnitude and seriousness of them. They are not mature enough to do so in many cases.


It’s archaeology-hostile. It pisses me off to no end when I am searching for information on reddit and come across people replying to deleted posts by some paranoid user who wishes comments were more ephemeral like Snapchat.

This is what the next dark age of mankind will be like, people from the future looking for historical information and finding nothing but deleted or decayed data

No. It absolutely should be allowed. Sites like the internet archive exist to preserve internet data.


If the 'right to be forgotten' is enforceable worldwide, it will be enforceable regarding the internet archive as well.


> No. It absolutely should be allowed. Sites like the internet archive exist to preserve internet data.

For now. But one day they'll come for those archives too.


I think you’re being unsympathetic and overly dramatic. We’re all human and mistakes are inevitable. Some mistakes could cost a person’s livelihood or safety.


Isn't the entire history of communication archeology-hostile?


Yes, but the internet is not purely communication, it's also a store of knowledge. You can find a lot of good information from threads and discussions people have had in the past.

Also, even records of mundane communication people had throughout thousands of years in the past is of great value to archaeologists in learning about how people lived their lives and how different events affected them.

Since we live in a time where we have the privilege of rediscovering the past in greater detail than ever, we should have the introspection to be mindful of what we are leaving for our future as well.


>Also, even records of mundane communication people had throughout thousands of years in the past is of great value to archaeologists in learning about how people lived their lives and how different events affected them.

Meanwhile, works by Archimedes, Homer and Shakespeare, as well as innumerable other cultural artifacts, have been lost to time. As well as the original tapes of the moon landings. The ancient Sumerians writing their tax records in cuneiform never intended to leave a record for the ages. We still probably wouldn't know how Egyptian hieroglyphics worked if not for one artifact that happened to have it printed alongside known languages - and we still have no clue about Linear A, and many other languages.

What gets left behind as an artifact of the ages tends to be determined by random chance, and beyond that, the cultivating desires of the wealthy. In other words, it almost certainly won't be you or I who decide the value or longevity of our work.

>Since we live in a time where we have the privilege of rediscovering the past in greater detail than ever, we should have the introspection to be mindful of what we are leaving for our future as well.

The web wasn't meant to provide a lasting store of knowledge. It is ephemeral and stateless by design. If you want people to think long term about the collective data archive of humanity, asking everyone to just never delete anything is not going to cut it.


> Yes, but the internet is not purely communication, it's also a store of knowledge.

Who owns the data?


Sure, but if we have the technology to make it archeology-friendly it'd be very nice to future archaeologists.

Any current archaeologist would give an arm and a leg for a few good reddit/HN threads from ancient Rome.


[deleted]


Good point.


I've been emailing them about it once a year for 3 years, they keep saying they're working on it. Last month, they supposedly put me on a mailing list to be contacted when the feature is available.

I'd be fine with just being able to change my user name, or leaving my comments with a "[Deleted]" user name in place of my original like reddit.


This makes me a bit nostalgic for the older days when you just assumed you were chatting with a bunch of other weirdos online, so everyone went by aliases. And if you ever tired of your old identity, you'd shed that old screenname, sign up with a different one, and maybe never mention the past.

Facebook changed everything by encouraging people to match their online accounts to real names, supply photos of themselves, and their family tree. Usernames became actual people. And all of a sudden, anonymity was lost.

And now people want to be forgotten again. I shake my head at the heavy-handed way of mass deleting comments. It’s understandable for Facebook where the person and account are closely tied, but for sites like HN, I hope we keep the shared knowledge, but just scrub out the name.


> Facebook changed everything by encouraging people to match their online accounts to real names

s/encouraging/requiring/


You can still create an account with a fake name if you like. They don't have anything to enforce it.


They enforce it when reported. Who cares to report it, though?


> Facebook changed everything by encouraging people to match their online accounts to real names

Recent revelations shed a whole new light on this 'encouragement'.


I have been partially doxed here and HN refuses to remove the comment.


If you are trying to be anonymous you really should try harder, it took me less than a minute to get your home address. For starters you should probably remove any identifying information from your profile.


There is no reasonable reason for any member of this community to specifically dig up stuff and post it here. What was doxed was inferred from a comment I made, not from the info in my profile.

Still, the comment which provides no other valuable information is retained.

I try to handle my privacy pragmatic, it doesn't have to be as black and white as you suggest here.


>If you are trying to be anonymous you really should try harder, it took me less than a minute to get your home address.

It may be insightful for others if you divulge your methods.


When you have more than 50K HN Karma an extra toolbox opens up next to the usernames, one of those is 'autodoxx' (clearly a weak pun on autodocs).

You click the link and it will automatically query google, various Whois tools and other lookup services to get a fix on the user, the end result is a nice little one-page mash-up listing all the domains you own, a bunch of recent photographs, your political leanings, your sexual preferences, your last three known addresses, any children you have and where they go to school, your present location on a google maps page (it moves when you do, it's near real-time, maybe a minute or two delayed), your current employer and an estimate of your bank balance and some possible avenues for blackmail.

All this powered by the friendly AI of some HN start-ups that want to show off their technology, and blessed by the Holy Trinity of online surveillance: Peter Thiel, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg. This is Hacker News after all.


I love how much I can't tell if you're serious.


49822 to go.


Your knowledge base is out of sync.


HN doesn't support programmatic content or I would have been happy to make it real time.


This is strange, there was another, very very similar comment here from another user, which disappeared after about 10-15 minutes.

Then 15 minutes later, this comment appears, with only a slight variation in wording.

I am starting to doubt myself. Eerie.


I removed it for a couple of reasons: I try to keep my posts substantive (though I have been known to slip) because I strongly value that aspect of HN. And in particular I don't like to feed conspiracy theories, even when it's clear they're in jest. 'jacquesm's post upthread overwhelmed my usual caution, which led to a moment of weakness that I tried to correct.

Apologies if it may have (hopefully only temporarily) contributed even in its removal!


> I try to keep my posts substantive because I strongly value that aspect of HN

Thanks for trying. I've been noticing more reddit-like comments lately and it's tiring since it worsens the signal:noise ratio here.


Same. For the record, I did not intend to trigger a sarcastawar. Was hoping for: I went profile --> domain --> whois, validated against redfin/zillow / county court records... --> traded to equifax for salary history or similar


Thank god. I initially thought anybody could do it.


AI, got it. If I get that many, I'll send you a sexy postcard from your previous address.


That would make my day. Please do :)


If a person has a personal domain registered, a whois search may offer up information (which may or may not be accurate).

Most registrars will now hide your info for an additional fee.


>which may or may not be accurate

Thx, it's the < 60 second validation method I was fishing for. Turns out it's just AI


The "methods" are pretty simple: view a profile, look at the web site mentioned there, google some of the info.

Most people should simply use different usernames on different sites.


Ever heard of the Streisand Effect?

If you are genuinely concerned about your privacy, publicly complaining that you have been doxxed is one of the worst things you can do. It encourages other people to go looking for that info, check how easy it is to find, etc.

This inclines me to think your reason for complaining is probably something else. And that makes me wonder if the mods declined to do as you asked because the situation is more complicated than you are stating and their decision was more nuanced.

And I am posting my speculation because the mods are unlikely to say something like that. It would be a dick move and just make them look bad. I think they are reasonably up on when to just keep your mouth shut.


> Ever heard of the Streisand Effect

Of course.

I am not religious about it, just pointing out even when someone partially doxes you, HN won't remove the comment.


An acquaintance of mine with some personal issues derped and posted a link to info about themselves when they are normally pretty careful about such things. They requested that the mods delete it and it was deleted.

I have talked to the mods at times about privacy concerns for myself. I'm a woman and I get weirdly personal interest and invasive questions at times. They have been consistently responsive and supportive.

Though I have not as yet ask them to delete anything. I am typically looking for a more nuanced approach to the problem space.

So my experience differs from yours and I know of cases where they have been highly responsive in deleting info, even when it was the poster themselves who doxxed themselves.

I don't intend to argue this further. I'm sorry you're unhappy with the call they made, but your experience does not warrent the sweeping statements you are making about HN policy. It is simply not an accurate picture of HN policy and moderating practices.


I just posted some anecdata. I wonder why you get so worked up about it.


I'm not worked up.

You posted anecdata and then followed it with a sweeping conclusion rather than stating "in this specific case, they would not delete it."

I rebutted that with my own anecdata and assertions that your sweeping statements are not accurate.

Like so many people here, I'm pretty pedantic. This is a problem space that interests me.

Also, I frown on character assassination justified by "It's just anecdata, man! Don't get so worked up."

I'm weird like that.


My original comment: "I have been partially doxed here and HN refuses to remove the comment."

Then you start questioning my motives, throwing your anecdata and accusing me of character assassination.

My original comment just stated a fact. I was polite to the moderators. I did not 'beg' for the dox, the other commenter was a raving lunatic.


One of your follow up comments is just pointing out even when someone partially doxes you, HN won't remove the comment.

You are wanting to have it both ways, to suggest this is policy while claiming you are doing no such thing. I have provided my anecdata that supports the idea that, no, this is not true in all cases.

If you weren't trying to smear them, you could have replied to my rebuttal with something like "I stand corrected. It isn't HN policy, though I am still unhappy with their decision." instead of accusing me of being worked up, which veers into personal attack territory and amounts to a cheap shot intended to undermine my points without actually addressing them.

But I said I didn't plan to argue this further, and would not have had I not felt your cheap shot was seriously out of line. So I intend to stop here.

Edit: And the primary reason I don't intend to argue it further is because this is a personal issue for you. I am trying to be respectful of that fact. But I don't think that fact justifies smearing both me and HN moderating policy.


> One of your follow up comments is just pointing out even when someone partially doxes you, HN won't remove the comment.

Which is after you accused me of ulterior motives and you are merely getting worked up about phrasing. Of course I will extrapolate my anecdata just as you do.

> If you weren't trying to smear them,

I have not smeared anyone and take offense at this accusation.

The thread has been buried, this has turned into a one-on-one.

Take care.


The comment was already removed in the sense of being flagkilled. We don't delete comments outright except when the author requests it. We do sometimes redact comments (and mark them redacted) when they contain personally identifying information. We didn't do that this time because the info (a company name) wasn't obviously personal, and I was worried that censoring it might provoke someone into posting more.

It's a tricky line to walk. If we censor a comment to please one user, other users can easily take offense and turn a little fuss into a big fuss. My sense was that leaving the comment flagkilled was the least risky thing to do: it was removed from the public internet, inaccessible to search engines, and so on. I explained all this to you and asked you to tell us if you still had concerns.

Now that a few months have gone by it's hopefully not so big a risk, and since you obviously do still have concerns, I'll redact the company name from that comment.


For those who are as confused as I was, "doxing" is the practice of researching and broadcasting private or identifiable information about an individual or organization.


It would be appreciated. I've recently been removing all history for my main alias (of which I don't use on HN for this very reason) from the internet.


Is there a nice summary of how to do this available? Or, if not, would you mind posting a few pointers?


It's nothing fancy. I'm simply deleting all my comments/posts on reddit and other forums I've participated in, manually. Of course, you can reach out to the admins and ask them to delete your data, but they may not be responsive...

One thing I haven't got to yet, and am not sure how to even approach, is removing my old Usenet posts, which you can find on Google Groups (from 1995!).

I still comment on reddit and such, as I like to help people. I just come back later and remove the comments.


> I still comment on reddit and such, as I like to help people. I just come back later and remove the comments.

May I ask why? There are few things more frustrating than arriving in a help thread from search results and finding that the answer has been deleted.


That's fair, and I understand that pain.

It's a couple things. I may actually be wrong, and don't want to leave my stupidity open on the internet for all to see. And secondly, for those who figure out my alias in real life and snoop me up on the internet and find things out about me that I'd prefer to keep private (things I am interested in, activities I partake in, etc).


Why not just create a new account every few weeks? It's trivially simple on reddit and HN, and they offer you some degree of anonymity unlike Facebook.

Like Sharparam, reddit search results can be fruitless because of all the deleted answers. Imagine if StackOverflow was like that.


I tried doing this, but many subreddits have a restriction against account ages. I frequently find myself being unable to post (or I am, but my posts are in the "shadows" with no notice), without getting an AutoMod telling me:

1). Your karma is too low

2). Your account is too young

3). You haven't been subscribed long enough

It's always a turn off when you've written a long and properly sourced info dump, but then the automod deletes it and you have to go fish it out of ceddit et al. And then asking admins to make an exception is always as fun as getting your license renewed. So I do what the OG does: Keep a couple of accounts dedicated to each subject-matter, and delete my posts routinely.

If what I post is important enough, it'll propagate. If it doesn't, it dies. That's not the reason I do it, however. It's a boycott against Reddit as the world's discussion platform. Good luck figuring out the answers to those really important questions or why all the commentators are applauding [deleted] ;)


Yeah those are good points.

It is a pity Reddit has become the go-to discussion platform because you have one identity tied across multiple interests (unless you happen to create specialised accounts). It's also plagued with the eternal September because users easily hop between subreddits. As such, few people bother reading the FAQ or searching before asking a question.


Because in the event of a database leak all those fragments can be assembled into a whole account.


Assuming the database really deletes those records and doesn't just flag them as "deleted".


Google used to have a page for this. You had to make a solemn declaration that you were that person. I think (but this is a long time ago and maybe I'm misremembering) that you needed to be contactable on the From: or Reply-to: headers.

I think they took it away?

https://www.quora.com/Is-there-a-way-to-delete-your-old-USEN...


removing my old Usenet posts

I think that ship sailed a long time ago!


You might be able to but there are many copies of HN comments and databases floating around so even if HN did this properly likely there would still be other copies that you could not touch.


Also, will the deletions be logical or physical. Will they be shallow or deep? Keep in mind that there are many types of "deletion".

Logical deletions would be just marking the user/comment as deleted ( updating a column in a table ) while keeping the data internally. Physical deletions would mean they remove the data on their servers.

Then the next question is whether the deletions are shallow ( superficial ) or deep ( complete ). For example, they can just do a shallow delete of the account/user on their front-end servers. But that leaves back-end servers, disaster recovery servers, staging servers, storage tape long term backups and also log backups.

Even if data is deleted on all live servers, database and log backups stored on tape and sent off to storage facilities still have your data.

Deleting your account/comment isn't as simple as people generally think.


You can get individual comments deleted if you ask the moderator nicely.

I think at the very least a 'hide' feature for a comment would be useful. Presumably you don't want 'anonymous' comments created either so you'd need to hide the entire comment from the public and not just the username.

Sometimes one accidentally leaks personal information, and in this day and age privacy matters (or should).


The GDPR isn’t a magic shield though. It’s designed to regulate privacy data, which is tied to European citizens, in systems designed to keep such data.

HN isn’t such a system because HN isn’t build to keep any privacy information. It’ll be interesting to see how stuff like chosing your real name as a username plays out in the courts, but as it stands right now, HN won’t have to delete your data because of the GDPR.



I read the whole thing and all I came away with is that basically no one has a fucking clue if it applies, if it does apply technically does it even matter, and if it does matter how it’s supposed to work without fucking up the site.

Yay GDPR!


Most of the deletion requirement for a user could probably be satisfied by removing the username from the posts. And not just for display, but in the db. If the data can't be recalled for a user, then (by my reading) that clears the GDPR requirement.


Comments have personally identifiable information in too, it really doesn't sound like it's enough.


how many comments list their own name? Very very few.

Other comments may refer to you but you have no gdpr privacy rights over that.


> I read the whole thing and all I came away with is that basically no one has a fucking clue

Careful! You may be onto something here.


I assume you were being sarcastic, but in this aspect, I actually think the GDPR is great. At least for Europeans.

(The fact that people will find a way of disagreeing about pretty much anything online is a whole other matter.)


Thanks for posting this. Also note that it's very recent (4 days ago).


I posted that (I'm vgf). My account was rate-limited and the post was very clearly artificially pushed to the second page, then the third. Just minutes before that it had started to climb up the front page relatively quickly.


Your account was rate limited before you posted that, and the submission dropped in rank because it set off the flamewar detector. Moderators didn't touch it.

You have a long history of—among other things—breaking the HN guidelines, ignoring our requests and warnings to stop, getting banned, creating new accounts, and posting false statements about HN moderation. I mention that because readers have a right to hear true statements about this and not just the false ones. I don't mind being criticized for mistakes we actually make—it's good to be, so we can correct them—but spreading outright lies destroys this community by undermining its confidence in the site. That's not ok.

Since you obviously don't want to use HN as intended, I've banned several of your accounts.


What’s the point of your throwaway now?


To be able to post at all. I've given up on the vgf handle. And on HN as well, to be honest.


Thread has been buried from about 2300 CET.




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