OpenAI fixed their unsafe policy around names

Monday, September 4, 2023

Update October 2, 2023: This is now fixed: you can update your name in your user settings. This works for the OpenAI Platform accounts, and they say the same for ChatGPT (etc.) is coming soon. Thank you to those who reached out to OpenAI employees about this, and thank you so much to the kind folks at OpenAI who I talked to who prioritized this and made it happen. I've left this blog post up as a historical record.

Update September 6, 2023: A kind soul at OpenAI reached out to me and helped me get new accounts with my proper name. I've also heard hints that there may be a solution to this coming; no details, but fingers crossed. If you are facing a similar problem, you can get a new account with your proper name by going through support. If you try and it doesn't work, you can email me and I will do my best to work some contacts to get you fixed up. (End of update.)

I've written before about the challenges of changing my name and email address across platforms. However, I have not been able to update my name (or email) on my OpenAI accounts. I have a personal account and a work account, and need the latter to do my job. This is actively harmful, and I want OpenAI to fix it.

Normally you can change your own name and email address, but with OpenAI, I can't edit my email or username on my account. It's just not supported self-serve. And I can't create a new account, since my email addresses and phone number have been used for the two account limit.

OpenAI's official policy is that you cannot reuse an email nor can you reuse a phone number on a new account. Here is what they say in one of their help articles:

Since every email address is unique per account, we require a different email address for new accounts.


New accounts are still subject to our limit of 2 active accounts per phone number. Deleted accounts do count toward this limit. Deleting an account does not free up another spot. A phone number can only ever be used up to 2 times for verification.

This is part of their policy to prevent abuse and fraud, probably to prevent people from creating tons of accounts and using a lot of compute. They have to do something, and limiting people to one or two accounts is fair, but the way they're doing it is the problem.

So you'd think I could update my email address some other way, right? If I can't edit it myself, and I can't create a new account, maybe they can update it for me. Well, I asked their support for help udpating my name. I'll give you one guess what they told me to do.

Yup, delete my account and create a new one. Or add another email address to the API account, then remove the old one.

What. WHAT.

The absolute cherry on top is that they told me by email on August 24th that "if you already have two accounts you’ll need to delete one of your existing accounts to free up your phone number". In that response they link to this help article (Wayback Machine link from the same date), which directly contradicts them and says that "previously deleted accounts still count toward our two accounts per number limit".

Their only suggested solution for changing an email address or changing a name does not work because their systems disallow it. I don't know about you, but I don't have access to a pile of additional phone numbers to use. I've got... one phone. With one phone number.

Not allowing name or email changes is an actively harmful policy. Here are some of the situations where you would want to change your name, and the ways it's harmful to disallow it:

  • You leave an abusive partner whose name you had taken, and want to not see their last name everywhere. This would cause significant distress to have to see this often on an account.
  • You are trans and you take a name that aligns with your gender identity. Seeing your deadname everywhere can cause significant distress and if this happened at work, could be part of contributing to a hostile work environment.
  • You want to evade stalking. In this case, being unable to change it could make it easier to find you (one feature is sharing links to transcripts, which can include or omit your name; if you accidentally or intentionally share a link with your name, it could make it so you can be located more easily).

That's a few from the top of my head. But ultimately, names are deeply personal and not static, and it's a pretty bad move to not allow them to change.

This policy has other holes in it, though, like what if you get a new phone number that someone else had used before for OpenAI. Are you just out of luck, can't use their products? This isn't a permanent solution.

I've gone through their support and gotten nowhere. I reached out to their data privacy officer on the slim hope of being able to correct my data and only got an automated response. I don't know what else to do, except shout out into the internet and hope someone hears me.

Please help me, and please stop hurting so many people who are in a similar situation to me.

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