Change account deletion functionality to allow account anonymisation and prevent deletion of IDs


these may be pseudonyms, they are not anonymous per se as @spiphany pointed out. It is possible to determine what other observations the user has IDed, observations they’ve made, flags, etc. - The user has a history on iNat that is interrogable by other users. Additionally, the username is linked to an email address and IP addresses which staff can access in the rare case that there are issues.

With an anonymization option, a user’s profile page would not be accessible, and it would be impossible for any other user to interrogate their history on the site. Once there were more than a few anonymized power users, their site activity would be an indistinguishable lump of contributions. “Anonymous” would be the most prolific iNat user in perpetuity.

I think pseudonymization (sp?) would prevent most of the problems with anonymization. However, I don’t see how this would be fundamentally different to a user logging in, changing their username and wiping account details, and leaving forever. I don’t think a pseudonymization option (as opposed to an anonymization option) would get a user choosing to pseudonymize anything that they can’t already do (though happy to hear otherwise). I also don’t think this type of functionality would end up being much different than some previous proposals for freezing accounts or designating accounts with deceased owners (excepting the change/removal of username and PII). NB: I support both of those.

However, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult for someone determined to assess which previous user a pseduonym referred to. Only true anonymization would really offer privacy benefits I would think.

For the record, I would personally support removing the ability to delete IDs, but I think staff have indicated pretty strongly that this will not be considered. Even in light of this, I would still not want anonymization.

A couple of other adjacent issues to consider:
What happens to the content of other users who have interacted with the anonymized user? Are any mentions of the anonymized user in the other users’ posts edited automatically to change the username? If not, the anonymized user loses privacy (ie, I can still potentially tell that an observation or ID is the anonymized user’s depending on what comments others have left), but if the mention is changed, this involves a loss of information for commenters or other users who have their content changed (which I would not be in favor of).

Is the anonymized user’s original name then available again? Or is it permanently unavailable? If it is available again, this could definitely lead to confusion. Come to think of it, this is actually an issue with deleted accounts as is if the name becomes available again…