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We have some preferences for our mobile application that a user can change (such as choosing between miles and kilometers for distance information). We plan to store these preferences as unique to a user (meaning that if the user logs out, and someone else logs in, the preferences are reset to the default).

The question is, if that first user were to log back in, should we show their originally-set preferences, or revert to the default?

Is there such thing as an assumption that preferences are meant to be cleared on logout?

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No, the general assumption is not that preferences are meant to be cleared. I'd say that the opposite is the case: when you need to log in to use an application, you expect the application to remember you when you return.

A few considerations:

User expectation - most users expect personalisation and a constant experience - especially in the mobile domain it is important that you can continue where you left.

Predict what the user wants - in the case of miles vs kilometers there is very little chance that a user's preference will change from one day to another so it makes sense to keep the settings across sessions. There might be other situations where a user needs a one-time exception to the normal settings - but in that case this should not get stored in the preferences at all.

Privacy and security - for sensitive information there might be strong reasons to restore the empty slate more often.

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For preferences like these, I would always set them once (preferably when a user signs up/logs in for the first time). So, once a user has set his preferences, he gets to see everything using those, every time he logs in, unless he makes a change to those preferences.

For long-lived preferences, as a user, it would get annoying pretty quickly to have to make the same defaults over and over again. There are no assumptions, as far as I know, that a user's preferences must be cleared on logout.

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