Stack Overflow simply bans folks who don't want their advice used to train AI

Give us an opt-out button or give us (temporary) account death!

Stack Overflow users are revolting against the Q&A site's partnership with OpenAI, announcing they'd rather remove their posts and sacrifice their reputation scores than have their submissions used to train ChatGPT. 

The outcry comes after it was announced earlier this week that OpenAI would soon be able to train AI models using the answers and knowledge Stack Overflow users have contributed in the past 15 years. Stack Overflow and OpenAI will both benefit from the deal, with SO getting access to OpenAI technology, and OpenAI by having all that juicy data to stuff into its neural networks.

One of the Stack Overflow posters unhappy about having their data ingested without explicit permission is Ben Ui, a software developer who said he chose to protest the move by overwriting previous posts to complain about the deal. The protest landed him a week-long suspension and his posts reverted back to as they were, Ui claims. 

"Stack Overflow does not let you delete questions that have accepted answers and many upvotes because it would remove knowledge from the community. So instead I changed my highest-rated answers to a protest message," Ben said in a post on Mastodon. "Within an hour mods had changed the questions back and suspended my account for seven days."

Other users say they've had similar experiences, and that Stack Overflow has been banning users wholesale who have attempted to delete or deface their own posts on the site. We've asked Stack Overflow to clarify the extent of the protests, and haven't heard back yet. 

Regardless, Stack Overflow's terms-of-use don't appear to give users much wiggle room, in that it appears the data can be used for AI training.

Ben shared an email he said was sent by the Stack Overflow moderation team that explained he was suspended because the stuff he posted on Stack Overflow was no longer his once it had been posted. 

"Once you post a question or answer to this site, those posts become part of the collective efforts of others who have contributed to that content," Team Overflow said in the email. "Because of the amount of disruption these incidents can cause, we have placed your account on hold for seven days."

As others pointed out to those upset over Stack Overflow's response, it's all covered right there in the terms of service. 

"You agree that any and all content … that you provide … is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Overflow on a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis," Stack Overflow's Subscriber Content section in its terms states. 

"You grant Stack Overflow the perpetual and irrevocable right and license to access, use, process, copy, distribute, export, display and to commercially exploit such Subscriber Content, even if such Subscriber Content has been contributed and subsequently removed by you," the terms continue. 

"This means that you cannot revoke permission for Stack Overflow to publish, distribute, store and use such content," the terms sum up. In short, sorry: Stack Overflow's content is all Stack Overflow content. 

Ben, for his part, said he's requesting his Stack Overflow data be deleted under the European Union's GDPR's right to be forgotten. Though as GDPR Article 17 states, the right to have your data erased doesn't apply when the processing of said data is necessary "for exercising the right of freedom of expression and information," and Stack Overflow could perhaps make the information argument considering its view of ownership of the site's content. 

Wherever the fight ends up, one can imagine the lawyers quivering with anticipation at the possibility that the case lands in their territory.

In the meantime, it doesn't appear Stack Overflow users have any way to opt out of having their data used to train AI models. We've asked about that as well, and still have yet to hear back. ®

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