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Suspended by Stack Overflow

Perhaps you've heard the recent news that Stack Overflow is partnering with OpenAI, giving them access to all the content from the SO site to train machine learning models that will be used by ChatGPT to answer developer questions. Soon after the news broke, some SO users that wanted to opt out of this activity quickly found out they couldn't do so. In response, some of them tried deleting their answers in protest. SO responded by reverting the answers and suspending the users.

Guess who one of those users was?

Stack Overflow reverted my 'edit' and suspended my account for a week. Predictable.

I've reviewed the "Subscriber Content" section of the Terms of Service. Based on my IANAL interpretation, plus the many opinions of others, I'd say SO has us and our content dead to rights. Even European users under the umbrella of GDPR appear out of luck. I'd guess the best case scenario would be they keep your content (questions, answers, comments, etc.) and delete your account/profile (or at least remove all traces of PII that might identify you).

My History

I joined SO more than 10 years ago. I don't remember reading or seeing the Subscriber Content section. But knowing the way most people fail to read EULA's, I probably did the same.

Perhaps the Subscriber Content agreement was different when I joined back in 2014? I checked the Internet Archive--the oldest page I could find is from 2018, and it looks like the agreement is about the same. If the agreement was more user-friendly when I joined, I might have a legal leg to stand on. (I've heard that when companies brazenly state they are free to change the Terms & Conditions and users automatically are subject to those changes, they're usually toothless claims. But again, IANAL.) Nonetheless, lets assume the worst. I submitted four questions and provided 99 answers. They've got the data and there's nothing I can do about it. So be it.

When I joined, SO promoted itself as an online community for developers to learn, share, and build their careers. Search existing answers to find solutions to your problems. Submit questions you can't find answers for. Answer questions to help out other users. Community. I think we were all keenly aware our participation helped drive users to a site that showed ads to generate revenue and profit. I don't think anyone begrudged that business model. I know I certainly did not.

Control Your Own Data

Now, SO wants to use my data to train AI models that will answer direct questions from ChatGPT users. Will there be proper attribution for the answers? Will the people that did the work be given credit? Will there be quality answers that are thorough and accurate? Recent history's answers to these questions are not reassuring at all.

I would like to be in control of my data. But I am not. I would like to opt out of all of this. But I cant. I'd be willing to change my mind in the future. But right now, I want out. Depriving the world of my body of work is not the intent at all. In fact, I'd like to post all my answers here on this site. But under the current circumstances, that's probably not going to happen.

Knowing what we know now, would I have joined SO all those years ago? Nope. Not a chance. As the years have passed by, "owning your data" has become a pretty big thing. It's part of the reason I've quit other sites. I why I'm a big proponent of the Fediverse and an active user on Mastodon.

As for SO, it seems they've been dealing with hard financial times for a while. The deal with OpenAI strikes me as one of desperation. I'd guess the choice was not an easy one, though. But in the end, they're giving users like myself the middle finger. And I suspect many feel the same way I do. Private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit is a ruinous economic system. It's ruined so much of the world around us. Add Stack Overflow to the list.


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