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There's not just one sense of something being someone's data. The comments people make here are part of public conversations with other people, like in a newsgroup. There's a different sense of something being someone's data in a situation like that than there is in, say, Google Docs.

Imagine one of those collaborative drawing programs in which multiple users can make marks and the resulting drawing is the sum of all their marks. Should one of the users be able to come back later and claim that he wanted all the marks he'd made deleted, on the grounds that they were "his content?" I'd argue that someone doing that would be violating an implicit social contract with the other users.

Similarly, if someone wanted all their HN comments deleted, they'd ruin other people's comments by making them incomprehensible. And how far would deletion be expected to go? If user y quotes part of a comment by user x, is that also supposed to be deleted if x wants his comments deleted? It should be if it's "his personal data," right?

We do delete individual comments and submissions when people do something they worry will get them in trouble. That combined with the fact that accounts are anonymous and that users can wipe their profiles seems to me to strike the right balance.




Why not delete an account without removing the content? Basically disassociate the comment from the creator. This would give people back some control.

I don't see why comments by [deleted] would damage the site or flow of comments.


Yeah, I'd be open to replacing the username. One of the biggest things I overlooked when I wrote HN is that I didn't make any provision to let people change their usernames. There are no internal ids underlying usernames; the actual usernames are stored everywhere. But if I wrote something to let people change their displayed username, it could also be used for this.


There are potential downsides, like unexpected social consequences. One of the reasons HN users restrain themselves from getting into flamewars is because they're expected to. When people are expected to behave, they usually do.

Each HN user is, literally, their comments + their submissions. This may be an anonymous forum, but people feel a strong connection with their HN identity. When they make comments that cause them to look silly, they feel silly. Why is that?

If you let people change their identity, people may subconsciously stop trying so hard to live up to their current one.

Maybe allow each user to change their username only once.


There are also practical downsides: information on the internet is often scraped, archived and cached. For example at https://www.hnsearch.com/ and http://hackerslide.com/

If deletion is allowed, it would be easy to add "undelete" from a previously scraped copy, or even a page for all deleted comments with previous user details. Both of these already exist for Reddit. In a way, deleting a post would highlight and bring it to the attention of people looking for controversy or accidentally leaked information.


something like this would be interesting I think: <randomnumber>+accountdeleted so unlike reddit, in a discussion if multiple users delete their account but keep their comment, you don't get confused if its the same user or different user.


If it was also the feature users could use to change their displayed username, it would have to work that way.


There's also the issue of "does the username belong to the user". So if user a deletes their comment and user b quotes them both by comment and name, should user a's name be masked when they delete said post? Well, isn't that user b's content that's now being infringed upon? The current non-delete mode is fine - just don't write stuff you don't want on the web on a forum, and if you do then update with a new comment retracting the statement.


>So if user a deletes their comment and user b quotes them both by comment and name, should user a's name be masked when they delete said post?

I don't think so - it's clearly unreasonable to expect every instance of a username to be policed like that, particularly considering cut-and-pasting quotes. I'm fine with the idea that if it's in a thread it's no longer 'yours.'

But I also think it should be possible to remove ones' own account and have the username on those posts no longer point to an active account.

I also think there should be a "post anonymously" option as well, which there practically already is in the form of throwaway accounts. Might as well just make it official.


Replacing the "deleted" username with its hash in the template would probably be enough.


Hi Mr. Graham, thanks for taking the time to personally respond to my criticism. I'm a big fan of your essays (especially Keep Your Identity Small).

Having read your comment, I have a better understanding of why HN does not make the account deletion option available to users. I agree that preserving the flow of public discussion is important.

At the same time, I think other users in the comments below have raised interesting ideas (making comparisons to sites such as Reddit) about how to preserve the integrity of discussions while granting users a little more freedom to manage their data.

Besides offering criticism, I should reiterate that I think HN is a uniquely valuable forum. And I appreciate how difficult it must be to manage a technological website for technological people — because every user has a million suggestions and believes he or she knows best. :)


The WeLL worked like that (come back and erase comments), it made for some very problematic reading of old conversations.


> And how far would deletion be expected to go?

I believe this is a 'slippery slope fallacy'. If I have the right to delete my comments, it doesn't immediately follow that I have the right to delete occasions where someone has quoted me.

The awkwardness of deleting quotes does not contribute any awkwardness to deleting comments.

Legally, this matter is simplified by acknowledging that written work is copyrightable.

The law around publishing copyrighted work is different than the law around quoting copyrighted work.


This is no different to contributing to Wikipedia. You can't just have your edit history deleted. Wikipedia treats privacy seriously!


> Imagine one of those collaborative drawing programs

However this isn't a drawing board, this is a message board where people discuss various topics.

I think reddit handles this situation well in that the content isn't deleted but the "name" associated with the content just shows up as "[deleted]".


But with reddit, you can also roll through every last comment you ever wrote and delete them (as it should be; you own the copyright to those comments):

Reddit History Wiper http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/111025


You have granted Reddit a perpetual license to them though, so they can keep them if they want

> you agree that by posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so.

^Reddit copyright policy


Reddit still gives you the ability to delete your comments at any time. Hacker News does not.


You misunderstand how reddit works, the comment can be deleted as well. This leads to a fairly common occurance of people asking what was said to generate the responses.


Ah you're right, what I was referring to was what happens during account deletion.


I would love it if sites like Reddit took this a step further and used stylometry obfuscation techniques in addition to removing the name on the account. We desperately need tools to help make content as anonymous as possible after the fact, but still retain the essence of that content so that conversations that are a public good can still be maintained for posterity.




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