At Half brother and sister related to other family? the asker appears to provide the actual first names of adopted and assumed (half) siblings.

The three people mentioned appear to be still alive. I think that this, along with the asker using what may be their own real name, may make those people identifiable.

Does this contravene our Privacy Policy, and require redaction/anonymization of those first names?

For the moment I am going to redact them, so that any error will be on the side of safety.

With respect to the question on Main that triggered this Meta question, my concerns are not about the privacy of the question asker. I think that they should be free to waive that. They are about the privacy of the (half) siblings who we have no way to be certain are equally happy to privacy waived.

I also see no problem per se with a question that says 'Let's call them Bob and Sue' because that states that the names should be considered to be fictitious. However, I think we should also view such statements in context with anything else in or attached to a question that may identify a potentially living individual. For example, if I talk about my only brother in a question and say "let's call him Englebert" and then use my full real name as my username then I think I am being insufficiently respectful and protective of my brother's privacy.

  • I'm still confused about how you would know that a username is a real name? I could change my user name to Fred Bloggs but it wouldn't be my real name. I do think we should encourage the use of placeholders for the names of all living people; however we'll never know if the placeholder is a genuine placeholder. – ColeValleyGirl Mod Apr 24 '18 at 6:47
  • @ColeValleyGirl I too think that we should encourage the use of placeholders for the names of all living people. I would only have a reasonable idea that a username was a real name by researching that username. Researching that name is something that someone wanting to invade the privacy of that person may want to do so I think such people would assume that if it looks like a real name then it may be a real name. – PolyGeo Mod Apr 24 '18 at 7:24
  • @ColeValleyGirl I'm not proposing that we take exhaustive steps to try and prove that there is zero risk of our users revealing private information about other people in their posts here. I'm just trying to do some due diligence on whether there are any obvious cases where one of our users may be inadvertently doing that, and I think the risk appears high in the question that triggered this Meta that the user may be using their real name and they may be using their (half) siblings' real names. – PolyGeo Mod Apr 24 '18 at 7:28
  • We have to balance 'due diligence' with what is actually useful/possible. Encouraging or mandating the use of placeholder names for living people is useful and possible. So is editing a question that appears not to be using placeholders to change the names for placeholders. Worrying about usernames is pointless, especially if we apply the placeholder rule. – ColeValleyGirl Mod Apr 24 '18 at 7:40

This isn't a simple question. And this isn't really an answer, but it isn't a comment either :)

What makes you think they were the real names? Would you redact Sue and not 'Sue'? What if the OP had said 'Let's call her Sue' when in fact that was her real name? Or said 'Let's call her S' when that is actually her initial? Do we need to worry about initials, or just names?

And can we be sure the OP was using their own name or an assumed one? Even if an OP uses a name that patently isn't a name (like mine) five minutes work with Google will tell you who I am...

I don't believe we should make different rules for different user names. If somebody wants to identify themselves that's their decision.

If we're going to ban the real first names of potentially-living people, we need an acceptable and consistent convention. We don't have a magic real-name detector, so would have to ban all personal names of potentially living people in questions (no more 'Let's call them Bob and Sue'). But that can make a question very unreadable. Refer to them as B & S, and assume the OP doesn't use real initials? Initials make a question very unreadable IMO.

Maybe other sites can provide another perspective -- e.g. https://interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1766/shall-we-edit-posts-to-protect-privacy and https://interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1424/should-we-encourage-using-placeholder-names-more-often

  • "What makes you think they [may have been] the real names?" is that the asker did not say that those names were fictitious. – PolyGeo Mod Apr 22 '18 at 11:05
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    @PolyGeo I was thinking about a more general case. But you seem to be saying: we must assume they're real unless we're told otherwise. – ColeValleyGirl Mod Apr 22 '18 at 11:09
  • I'm not concerned about the asker identifying themself - it is them impinging on the privacy of their (half) siblings that I think must be a potential concern for us. – PolyGeo Mod Apr 22 '18 at 11:18
  • I think "Let's call them Bob and Sue" is fine because that basically says let's give them names which are most likely fictitious. – PolyGeo Mod Apr 22 '18 at 11:30

The Privacy Policy concerns that I expressed in my question could be cleared up by the simple insertion of a statement into our Privacy Policy that says:

It is strongly recommended that users take care mentioning other living members of their family in any of their posts, especially if they use their real name as their username or have anything that can be used to identify them in their profile.

Using placeholder names for them like 'Bob' and 'Sue' is encouraged, but may not always be enough.

This places the onus on the users to protect the privacy of their family members rather than on us to try and police it. It would enable us to point at the Privacy Policy if a particular question rings alarm bells with us but does not require us to do that.

Personally, I feel reluctant to ask questions that mention even my deceased grandparents (but have once or twice) and I would not yet mention my deceased parents or my living siblings.

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    Simpler to modify the privacy policy to change references to 'ancestors born less than 100 years ago' to references to 'people born less than 100 years ago'? And add a statement that, if names of living or potentially living people are needed for readability, placeholders must be used. – ColeValleyGirl Mod Apr 24 '18 at 10:34
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    I think changing references to 'ancestors born less than 100 years ago' to references to 'people born less than 100 years ago' is a very good idea. – PolyGeo Mod Apr 24 '18 at 10:36
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    You'll probably want to wait for more responses, but I don't think that making this change is such a big thing that you need to wait. – ColeValleyGirl Mod Apr 24 '18 at 13:41
  • @ColeValleyGirl I agree and have proceeded to make that ancestor(s) to people/person change. – PolyGeo Mod Apr 25 '18 at 0:54

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