4

I saw this question asking about the UK regulations for making your own electrical equipment, and it got me thinking: if someone answers it one way and gets it wrong, and the guy's house burns down or he ends up in jail, is the site in any way culpable? Is simple participation here taking on liability for interpreting laws? Should we allow these questions? Or, like Security SE, should we flat-out issue a "legal questions are off topic" edict, and avoid the liability?

The Help Center for IoT isn't yet complete, of course. But I'd propose that we should start off by either avoiding questions that have the potential to get people in legal trouble, or making sure questions about safety, legal, or regulatory, issues come with a big legal disclaimer: "neither IoT.se, the posters, nor the community are liable for the accuracy of this information; neither posters nor moderators are lawyers; even if a reader or poster on this site happens to be a lawyer by chance, he or she is not your lawyer, you are not paying for his or her advice, so he or she has no responsibility for the accuracy of what you may read; nothing on this site constitutes legal advice; the reader assumes all risks; no lifeguard on duty; do not stand on or above this page; blah blah blah."

5

Is the site in any way culpable?

I strongly doubt so (although I am not a legal professional!). The Terms of Service specifically disclaim all liability for incorrect/dangerous/illegal advice:

To the fullest extent allowed by law, Stack Exchange disclaims any liability or responsibility for the accuracy, reliability, availability, completeness, legality or operability of the material or services provided on this Network. By using this Network, you acknowledge that Stack Exchange is not responsible or liable for any harm resulting from (1) use of the Network; (2) downloading information contained on the Network including but not limited to downloads of content posted by subscribers; (3) unauthorized disclosure of images, information or data that results from the upload, download or storage of content posted by subscribers; (4) the temporary or permanent inability to access or retrieve any Subscriber Content from the Network, including, without limitation, harm caused by viruses, worms, trojan horses, or any similar contamination or destructive program.


With the rather dry legal bit aside, I think it's more important to discuss what us regular users can do to prevent people from coming to harm:

  • downvote things that are wrong, and leave an obvious comment saying "hey, this is dangerous/illegal - don't do this!"

  • when answering these questions, remind the author to contact a professional since advice on the Internet may not be reliable.

If this turns out to be a significant problem, we could always ask for a post notice like the ones on Skeptics.SE. However, Electrical Engineering.SE seems to get along just fine even though they regularly discuss topics that could lead to building code violations and death/injury, so I doubt it's a problem we need to address at the minute.

As for making legal questions off-topic, I don't see any reason for this - your concerns seem to lie in the liability aspect, which I don't believe is a problem, and I believe many questions on this site with a legal aspect are useful and within the site scope. When the Pro Tem Moderators are elected, I believe they will be able to edit the Help Center if the community feels this is necessary though, so I'd just wait and see.

  • While this seems all sensible and applies to all questions not just legal issues, this part "legal questions are off topic" could (!) still be a way to go. Up to decission. – Ghanima Dec 22 '16 at 20:02
  • 1
    Just an exmaple what do we have sometimes over EE.SE. – Bence Kaulics Dec 22 '16 at 20:16
  • 1
    @Ghanima personally I'm against making them off-topic - some legal questions are very relevant here and it would be a shame to lose them. – Aurora0001 Dec 22 '16 at 20:56
  • 1
    I know (and I am not saying we should). I am just saying that your answer does not address that part so it is still open for debate. – Ghanima Dec 22 '16 at 20:58
  • @Ghanima I'll add that into my answer then (and I wasn't under the impression you personally believed that, just wanted to share my view) – Aurora0001 Dec 22 '16 at 21:00
  • 2
    Thanks for this answer. At Security.SE, much of the work deals with illegal activity (hacking, malware, theft), countering illegal activity (forensics, research, counterstrikes, and vigilantism) and many people constantly tread along the ill-defined edge of research vs hacking vs defending. So maybe I'm just more attuned to legal concerns because it's been a more relevant topic over there. – John Deters Dec 23 '16 at 14:52
  • 1
    Relevant topic from EE.SE. – Bence Kaulics Dec 31 '16 at 11:07
5

Liability1

According to the bottom of the page of every SE site:

site design / logo © 2016 Stack Exchange Inc; user contributions licensed under cc by-sa 3.0 with attribution required

Everything any user posts is cc by-sa 3.0 licensed, which following the link excludes all warranties.

No warranties are given. The license may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use. For example, other rights such as publicity, privacy, or moral rights may limit how you use the material.

Added to the terms of service Aurora already cited, SE and us users seem to be very well shielded against legal liability—as long as no one can prove harmful intent1.

Handling Potentially Dangerous / Flawed Posts

With my layman legal evaluation out of the way1, I say we shouldn't start marking some posts with legal disclaimers. The reason is simple. If we start putting organized disclaimers on some posts we create the impression that everything else doesn't need the disclaimer—furthering the false assumption that everything else can be used without any own thought at all. So let's not do post notices.

As the CC license tells us, there are no warranties given and it does not even mean I can use anything mentioned in the answer. Simple example, just because an answer mentions a commercial software, I cannot use it, I still have to buy it first. Even if that answer were to give hints where I could find it.

Furthermore, which legal code would one use as basic? US, because Stack Exchange is based there? The country where the OP or the answering user comes from because they happen to know something about that legal situation? Or err on the side of caution and pick the strictest law? How to find out which one that is? Do we stop with safety? What about privacy, security, violation of radio bands, copyright, etc ... That would require full-time lawyers to assess most of the posts on the site.

Neither we as users, nor any future moderation team will be able to catch every pitfall in every post. Even worse, if a moderator decided that a safety note is not necessary, the legislation or other bases for his or her assessment could change, so a post notice for such concerns would have to be re-assessed for every post on a regular basis. No voluntary staff of moderators and user reviewer pool however big can provide a consistent tagging with post notices. So let's not start with it in the first place.

However, that does not mean that one can't as a user provide all the warnings one deems appropriate as part of the answer, question or comment. I'd even encourage everyone to rise the safety, security, privacy and whatnot concerns they have with answers because it will likely make those answers better. Better, safer content is always good for the site. If you do see answers that don't take important points into consideration comment on them, downvote or provide an answer of your own, that's everyone's prerogative as user of the site.

Stack Exchange gives us the tools to downvote, correct (by editing, commenting or posting answers), close and delete posts already. Those are the things that Stack Exchange moderation is build on. Let's use these community moderation tools rather than using post notices that future lawyer moderators can use.

Off-Topic-Ness of Legal Questions

I think in there narrow confines of IoT related legal questions we should consider having them on-topic for now. The problem with every real regulatory problem is, that there are two sides to it, a legal one and a practical one. Generally laws are fuzzy and living the law is established by court rulings and precedence. Within the IoT domain there is barely established precedence available and the project knowledge of IoT experts might be even more applicable than that of a generic legal expert.

If we as a community can't provide proper answers to those questions, we can always re-evaluate—or try winning a legal expert with IoT knowledge.


1 Not a lawyer

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .