About 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. Summary 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.