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Private Conversation Privacy

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by vtac, Nov 14, 2013.

  1. vtac

    vtac vapor junkie Staff Member

    FC R&D

    A while back I was asked if it was possible for staff members to read private conversations here. A very nice member who will remain unnamed told me that some of their conversations had shown as "read" before they had clicked on them. I said no, wrote it off as an isolated incident and didn't give it much more thought as other things came along. In hindsight I should have done more to address this, and my apologies go out to this member.

    Recently it's come to my attention that there are some serious misconceptions floating around about private conversations here, and apparently some members are of the belief that I am reading their conversations. Trust has always been a cornerstone of this community, so learning of this is deeply disturbing to me. I'm glad that it was brought up, however, as it gives me a chance to clear some things up that I should have done before. Many of you have put your trust in me to some degree or another and that is not something that I take lightly. Thank you.

    XenForo - Our Forum Software

    First off, there is no feature in XenForo (the forum software we use here) that allows staff members (or anyone) to read private conversations that they are not a part of. The only exception is when someone reports a post in a private conversation that they are a part of. When that happens our staff will see only that one post, and not the full conversation. For the record it is very rare for members here to report posts in private conversations, and as the forum rules state: We do not attempt to moderate private communication on the site. You can leave existing conversations by clicking the "Leave Conversation" link. New conversations from a user can be rejected by using the Ignore feature on that user.

    It is true that there are third party add-ons for XF that do allow staff members to read the private conversations of members. I can't deny that fact, and it's not something new when it comes to forum software. However, we do not and will not ever use such add-ons here. Also, I think it's safe to say that those types of add-ons would not leave any indication of snooping such as marking conversations as read.

    Database Access

    As the admin of this site I have and require full access to the database that the forum runs on. Aside from the people in the data center managing the physical hardware (professionals who manage thousands of servers), and barring an undiscovered intrusion or exploit (I take security seriously), I am the only one with access to it. Everything is there unencrypted if I wanted to look. I don't.

    It also wouldn't be a matter of simply reading people's conversations through the software. The database is well over 1GB right now, and finding specific conversations in 1GB+ of random, jumbled text in a database is needle in a haystack territory unless you're a talented programmer, which I am not. Doing it like this would also be essentially bypassing the forum software and thus would not affect things such as read/unread markers.

    Time and Morals

    If you've emailed me lately you probably know that I sometimes struggle with keeping on top of forum matters. Sorry, I'll get back to you when I can. I truly do not have the time or inclination to read through private conversations people are having here. Even if I did, the moral aspect would prevent me from doing so. A few years back we were using a more basic forum software which didn't have any private message system and I more than once defended that on the grounds that using email was preferable for reasons such as security. Today, email probably isn't as private as it should be, but that's another can of worms.

    Possible Explanations

    XenForo Related

    It's possible that there is a bug in XF relating to read/unread markers. I find this to be unlikely, as something that obvious would have been spotted very quickly. The XF community and authors are very good at finding and fixing bugs.

    The private conversation system in XF is a bit different from traditional forum private message systems, so there may be some misconceptions relating to that. For example, a feature we do have is the ability for staff to add members to a conversation. This is only possible if the staff member is already a part of the conversation. For example, if you started a conversation with me asking for clarification on some rules, I could add @max to the conversation for some help, and you would see him listed under the Conversation Participants sidebar. I can't add myself or anyone else to a conversation that I'm not already a part of.

    As you may know, you can access new conversations from the Inbox dropdown menu at the top of every page. Doing so will mark the conversation as read on the dedicated conversations page.

    Personal Computer Related

    Few things get the blood boiling like the suggestion of "user error", but please bear with me as this may be affecting others. Compromised passwords, malware infections, and technical snags such as a browser configuration issues are not that uncommon.

    I'd suggest to anyone who's concerned with their computer's security that they run a basic malware scanner such as malwarebytes. An antivirus is a good idea, and most PCs with Windows 7 and up come with a decent program called Windows Defender. If you're using Linux or a Mac I'm sure you know the programs relevant to your operating system. Making sure that your web browser is up to date is important and can usually be checked by navigating to the "About" menu option.

    Giving your web browser a cleaning by clearing out cookies and cache can help with problems like this. If you're using more than one browser/device to access the site you should clear them all to be sure. You can find some information on how to do this here. Keep in mind that this will essentially log you out of all websites, so make sure you know your login information. Another step you can take is disabling all browser extensions/add-ons, as they can cause unexpected behavior. After you do all of this, and even if you don't, change your forum password, and make sure it's strong.


    I am not secretly reading anyone's private conversations on this site. There is no facility in the forum software we use that would allow anyone to do so. This community was built largely on trust, and there's no way I'm willing to compromise that.

    If you still believe that this is happening to you, let me know and I can check your account for suspicious IP activity. If you think it's a bug in the software, I'm sure the XenForo developers would be very interested to hear about it. Maybe we can help fix it. :)
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2013
  2. Sonics420

    Sonics420 Well-Known Member

    What if some folks were just too vaped and forgot they read it? :rofl:
    Deja Vu, ou812?, aesthyrian and 4 others like this.
  3. Magic9

    Magic9 Plant Enthusiast

    Middle of the Map
    NSA anyone?
    Seek and Denver912 like this.
  4. armin

    armin Member

    Cretaceous Period
    It is actually quite easy to navigate through the database if you have any computer knowledge or common sense. But it is correct that it would not trigger a read flag.

    People should get a clue and realize that if it isn't on your own computer as soon as you post or submit something anywhere not local to your computer, that someone can and WILL read it. It's called the internet not the privatenet. The only secure way to communicate is to encrypt a text file and transmit that to someone who has the key to decrypt the container. Everything else is fair game.

    But this is a forum about weed toking. Who cares if someone reads your "private" posts. Your being naive if you think this is a safe haven to have private talks. Always assume that the mods are reading or the man. Never take an mod at his word. He's just a node on the chain. You don't know him in real life. Just saying. Ain't nuttin private online. Y'all should know better.
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot, jvapman and 6 others like this.
  5. pakalolo

    pakalolo RoboMod v4.0a (unstable) Staff Member

    Other side of your screen
    Have you actually tried to read through a XenForo database or are you just generalizing?

    This isn't an issue of privacy, it's an issue of trust. You clearly don't have it: "Never take an [sic] mod at his word."
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot, ataxian and 6 others like this.
  6. cluffy

    cluffy Vaker

    Northeastern US
    Just don't type anything on the internet that you wouldn't say to a policeman... :p
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot, Rocket and 4 others like this.
  7. armin

    armin Member

    Cretaceous Period
    Yup. Assume there is no anonymity unfortunately.
    Deja Vu, BLAZING OG and Quetzalcoatl like this.
  8. vtac

    vtac vapor junkie Staff Member

    FC R&D
    I'd like to think I have some computer knowledge and common sense and I don't believe that MYSQL programming is a prerequisite to either. This of course is besides the main point that I tried to make in great detail.

    I agree that encrypted communication is the way to go if you want to ensure privacy. However if you're implying that people here are clueless and have no right to any expectation of privacy, I strongly disagree with you. This isn't a forum about "weed toking" -- if you must boil it down, "vapor enthusiast forum" is what I think most would settle on. To some of us it's also a place to hang out with like minded individuals, and I take offense when you say "Never take an mod at his word. He's just a node on the chain.".

    This site has been around for 6 years and I believe the people behind it have established themselves as trustworthy during that time. Trust has been an overwhelming factor in every decision I've made here since the beginning. If you want to say "don't post anything incriminating online" that's fine, and I agree, but as a member who's been here for less than a month, I don't think you have the background to make the generalizations that you did. If I wanted to sell out I would have done it years ago. There's a reason you don't see advertising plastered all over this site.
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot, cluffy and 23 others like this.
  9. armin

    armin Member

    Cretaceous Period
    Trust an anonymous mod on a paraphernalia forum that is running out of the box software? No I'll just stick to the heavily moderated discussions. Not to offend at all. But does anyone trust someone they have never met in real life? That's a huge leap of faith. I don't know the mod. I know nothing about him. I'm grateful the forum is here, but that doesn't mean I trust the person running it.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2013
    Deja Vu and BLAZING OG like this.
  10. dorkus_molorkus

    dorkus_molorkus Well-Known Member


    publicly insinuating the dude who owns the site is untrustworthy because he is an anonymous mod on a paraphernalia site is insulting. Not just to him personally, but also to the rest of us who spend a great deal of time here, day in day out.

    Maybe to you the mods here are anonymous, but to me they are either my friends or at the very least TRUSTED acquaintances with whom I have exchanged messages, jokes, the odd barb, and knowledge over a few YEARS.

    These anonymous mods as you call them, actually choose to share themselves with some of us because they are just people like us, who wanna share the good info on vapor.
    But you wouldnt know about that part, cause you just got here & have everyone figured already.

    If you spent any real time on here, you would know this is just as much a medical Mj community as it is a vapor community. IME- this site is run on respect, discipline & compassion for others feelings & circumstances.

    The opening post by Vtac was a lengthy, well thought out, well written public explanation that many other sites never would have bothered with in the 1st place.

    While the underlying message of your 1st post above wasnt incorrect, however its execution in relation to this particular site, was.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2013
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot, Adox and 29 others like this.
  11. Denver912

    Denver912 Active Member

    Lol. It's a weed site. If anyone's messaging crazy shit in pms over here I'm sure the owner didn't intend it to be like that. If he's choosing to run a site that requires him to remain off paper why are ppl seeing that as a negative and not a positive?
  12. Hexi

    Hexi Well-Known Member

    Urban Cali
    This is a website/ community. This is not a social networking platform or an email/chat software service.

    I'm not worried about someone reading my private chats on this forum, it's technically possible to do so. But the owner of the site has stated he isn't doing it. And he took the time to post about it. Thanks for the info/update.
  13. deadheadbill

    deadheadbill I can see clearly now the smoke is gone...

    I share things including my own image on this site that I would on no other site.

    Even though I live in a non-legal strict as hell state.

    Simply because I trust you guys.

    Life is too short to live in a dichotomous state.

    Thank you.
  14. mephisto

    mephisto Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the explanation, Vtac. I have made many friends and learned a ton through FC. It is a place that fosters compassion and understanding. I agree with Dorkus (does that make me retarded?)
  15. vapirtoo

    vapirtoo Well-Known Member

    The mods have created a real cool space for like minded folks to share.
    I dont know vicki's address or mom's phone number because we are not idiots.
    If the mod says he is not reading pms, he seems to be like the rest of us....
    to busy to fuck with dumb shit. just my :2c:
  16. DanAndroid

    DanAndroid Of no particular interest

    Mecha Land
    There is no possible way to say it better except to say that the only possible "guarantee" of privacy, is trust.

    Personally, I feel as safe here as I have on boards I've been the one with the keys to.

    That doesn't mean I don't watch what I say though. :cool:
    Deja Vu, ou812?, Buildozer and 3 others like this.
  17. weedemon

    weedemon enthusiast

    Ontario, Canada
    I don't think our admins and staff are reading our PM's but honestly, if you think what you say and do online isn't recorded and logged then I think that's just foolish.

    most of us are using Google and Microsoft products. both have a poor history of proving that they are not actually the man themselves. hell I found FC cause of google. :( I'd feel fine lumping Apple in this group too.

    I'm super glad i found this place, but don't doubt it's being monitored not for one second.
  18. vape4health

    vape4health Boro padawan

    It don't make sense, if a mod was reading pms you wouldn't even know it happened. Even if for some reason it was going on, we are guest at dudes house and if he needs to check your bags for what ever reason then thats what it is. Vtac said he wasn't, goodnuff for me.

    My wife and I are tight, no cheating issues or anything but I have been getting the stink eye more and questioned about what I'm always doing on the phone. Ha next MTV show "Help I'm stuck on FC". Maybe its just a case of someone actually looking to see what your doing.
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot and SSVUN~YAH like this.
  19. jdee

    jdee Well-Known Member

    The supreme court has already ruled you have no expectation of privacy when handing over data to a third party, act accordingly.
  20. max

    max Out to lunch

    We have a hard enough time getting vtac to keep up with the PM's WE send him. ;) He has a life other than FC and sure doesn't have the time or inclination to read anyone else's PM's. And as the one and only 'super adminstrator', he's certainly the only one here with the rights to read the database. Just my :2c:. I haven't even read most of this thread.
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot, cluffy and 10 others like this.
  21. Denver912

    Denver912 Active Member

    I'm fuckin db cooper yo shhhhh :)
  22. ou812?

    ou812? Well-Known Member

    outer limits
    No issues with the mods here and privacy.Great site,the private conversations I normally have are just sent to a bud about something in a post that we may want to vere off topic on and do so as to not derail the post , HENCE the feature CONVERSATION!!! . I think like most,I'm not revealing anything incriminating,or discussing agendas of malice, or looking to hurt anyone or anything, just bullshitting with a bud, fug, NSA can tap away all day on my material and computer, WOW they discovered an old man that vapes weed WHOA BIG NEWS!!

    And if they wanted to tail me, even bigger news, I vape on a great month 1/3 oz of bud but for the most part a 1/4 oz/mo. and I normally buy from a corner hang out that is so KNOWN ,that if they dont know by now, then they never will!!!
    I cant see any ugly coming out from the mods who run this site,they have always been helpful and respectful in any case I have ever had with them, but there will always be some accusations,you cant always make everyone happy,but I think the majority here have no trust issues with the mods on FC .
    Deja Vu, Melting Pot, cluffy and 5 others like this.
  23. Caligula

    Caligula Maximus

    SB420 Land!
    Click to play YouTube Video

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