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In comments to this question, the asker claims to be a shared account that is used by several students in the same class.

Do we have a policy against such shared accounts? If not, I propose that we ought to have one.

  1. Sharing an account distorts the reputation system by pooling the reputation generated by all its principals, such that the individual users get various site privileges before their use of the site would ordinarily warrant.

  2. The shared account it confusing to other users, when the person currently operating the account does not remember interactions that the same account had earlier.

This is kind of converse to having multiple accounts for one human user. That is allowed (according to multiple meta threads), but it also only creates problems if the multiple accounts are used as sock puppets. In contrast the first of the above points seems to always apply, simply by the nature of the account being shared.

There's an argument to make that both of these disadvantages are fairly minor (in particular, that we should be above worrying about silly rep tricks). However, since it is free and easy to create (possbily anonymous) separate accounts, there doesn't seem to be any good arguments for this practice, so even these weak problems ought to be enough to disqualify it.

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    $\begingroup$ If this practice were to be disallowed (or is already), would there be any reasonably easy to way to enforce it? I frequently access MSE from different machines, and sometimes with a different IP address, so how would the system detect that I am the same person accessing from different places, as opposed to several people using a shared account? $\endgroup$ – Old John Jul 28 '12 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ Related meta.SO thread, but it's not clear whether it describes an official SE policy that must be allowed, or just a community consensus on SO to allow it there. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jul 28 '12 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ @OldJohn: It wouldn't necessarily be easy to enforce -- but just because we cannot prevent people from abusing the system doesn't mean we shouldn't at least ask them nicely not to. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jul 28 '12 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ The first point is not too much of an issue owing to the daily reputation cap. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Jul 28 '12 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @QiaochuYuan: I don't see how the daily reputation cap would stop one member of a user collective from using privileges he does not really have not MSE experience to have. The daily reputation cap prevents the colective from earning a lot of rep quickly, but they will still earn it eventually, and then we could have some guy who have posted two so-so answers and asked one verbatim-copy-of-homework voting to close or delete, just because he's sharing an account with some more experienced friends. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jul 28 '12 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ What is the worst case scenario for a user using privileges that he/she has not personally "earned"? I'm don't have such an elevated status here myself, but by scanning through the privilege descriptions it seems that a single account cannot affect the site too much. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Jul 28 '12 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ I feel that right now this issue is neither very frequent nor particularly harmful, so we don't really need an official policy on this. Maybe we can have a little poll here in the answers on how people feel about shared accounts, and then we'll be able to say in the future that, "Hey, shared accounts aren't strictly prohibited, but a lot of people find them annoying, so you should consider getting separate accounts for each person." If the users ignore the advice and go on to engage in actually disruptive behaviour, then we can revisit the issue. $\endgroup$ – Rahul Jul 28 '12 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that it could be a potential problem if people with little or no experience on this website have access to moderator tools purely because they are sharing an account. However, my concern is that if a group of people really wanted to abuse the system in this way, and if they did not stop when asked nicely, then it would be virtually impossible to do anything about it. I think that if more than a few people do share an account, then this could be detected by an analysis of some sort (i.e., their writing styles would be different); unfortunately, such an analysis may not be simple. $\endgroup$ – Amitesh Datta Jul 29 '12 at 1:26
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    $\begingroup$ @AmiteshDatta: Sure people who really want to abuse the system will easily find a way to conceal their abuse. My assumption, however, is that people who're doing this mostly do it because they haven't imagined that there could be problems with it, and just need a friendly nudge to create personal accounts instead. Basically, my concern is whether I would be out of line dropping a friendly comment reading "hey, that's actually not cool for such-and-such reasons; please use separate accounts instead". $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jul 29 '12 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of gently suggesting to people that shared accounts are not cool, but I wonder whether doing this shouldn't be left to the moderators. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 29 '12 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, should we be voting to delete the question that is cited above? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 29 '12 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry: Such suggestions don't need any particular technical privileges, so I don't see any reason only moderators should make them. The SE moderation philosophy depends heavily on leaving most housekeeping on the site to established users, and only require actual moderator intervention for things that need tools so powerful that they really shouldn't be awarded mechanically. This seems to work rather well. Non-mod users here can edit and delete questions; surely we can handle pointing out community norms to new users too. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jul 29 '12 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ Well, Henning, you expressed concern about being out of line dropping such a suggestion. Now you write that surely we can handle pointing out norms to new users. So, which is it - do you have concerns about it, or are you sure it's OK to do it? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 29 '12 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure the vote count is a reliable indicator of that. If I'm not mistaken, votes on meta proposals and feature requests indicate agreement/disagreement, but your title is phrased like a question, and those are still voted on for being good/bad questions. At least, I voted it up only to say "Good question!" and did not intend my vote to imply "Yes, shared accounts should (not?) be allowed". (To be sure, I do think your conclusion is true, I'm just saying it does not follow from the premises.) $\endgroup$ – Rahul Jul 29 '12 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: You may argue that if someone cares he'll come to meta. Some people don't care and others don't know if they care or not. See the last election vote count. More than 2,000 eligible voters and not even a third of them voted... and that had a banner for two weeks on the main site! $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 31 '12 at 1:03
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Vote this answer up if you think shared accounts are annoying and would discourage people from using them, but don't think there should be an official policy unconditionally prohibiting them.

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  • $\begingroup$ As I can't vote for my own posts, I'm leaving an upvote in the comments. $\endgroup$ – Rahul Jul 29 '12 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ The other two people who voted for this answer should check if my edit has changed their intent. Sorry for the confusion, see the other edited answer for why. $\endgroup$ – Rahul Jul 29 '12 at 21:32
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Vote this answer up if you think there should be an official policy prohibiting shared accounts.

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Vote this answer up if you think shared accounts are fine and wouldn't discourage people from using them, but no official policy is needed, allowing or disallowing them.

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    $\begingroup$ But this doesn't make much sense, especially the "but" part. $\endgroup$ – Gigili Jul 29 '12 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Gigili: I was trying to mark out a middle ground between "I don't like shared accounts" and "Shared accounts should be officially condoned by everyone", but I couldn't put it in the right words. Is this edit better, or should I just delete this option? $\endgroup$ – Rahul Jul 30 '12 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ Umm, it ... makes some sense now. ;) $\endgroup$ – Gigili Jul 30 '12 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ There. I think it's clearer now. $\endgroup$ – Gigili Jul 30 '12 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ @JonasMeyer: Right. I meant "no official policy is needed". Edited, thanks. $\endgroup$ – Gigili Jul 30 '12 at 16:02
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Vote this answer up if you think that people should stop whining about this.

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    $\begingroup$ No fair, we've only been whining for just two days now! Most other issues get at least a week of whining. $\endgroup$ – Rahul Jul 31 '12 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ O noes :-(. Sorry about that. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Teuwen Jul 31 '12 at 1:45
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Vote this answer up if you think there should be an official policy allowing shared accounts.

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    $\begingroup$ Unsure. But it might be kinda fun if groups competed to give good answers. If that happened, it would be desirable to have the username indicate that it is a group. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Jul 30 '12 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ If this becomes allowed, I shotgun username Bourbaki! $\endgroup$ – Ragib Zaman Aug 1 '12 at 11:54
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Vote this answer up if you think there shouldn't be an official policy and shared accounts should be treated on a case-by-case basis.

Edit: In retrospect, I think having the options not be mutually exclusive is a little confusing. If you voted for this answer, please vote on one of the two intermediate options instead.

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  • $\begingroup$ Now the options might be mutually exclusive, but they no longer are complete. For those of us who think that they might sometimes be problematic but aren't in principle a problem, who don't think they are necessarily either annoying or always fine, this option seems best. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Jul 31 '12 at 18:05

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