I found this line in the Stack Overflow Careers Terms of Service, which I need to agree to if I wish to file my resume:

You may not reverse engineer, reverse compile or otherwise reduce to human readable form any software associated with the Service.

This seems rather excessive, especially for a programmer-oriented site like Stack Overflow. When I answer questions on Stack Overflow, I sometimes de-minify Stack Overflow's own JavaScript or CSS in order to explain how something works with reference to Stack Overflow itself. According to this, I am not allowed to de-minify any of Stack Overflow Career's code in order to inspect how it works.

I also run nightly build releases of browsers, in order to help find compatibility problems, and sometimes I encounter a bug on a website. Just last week, I found an incompatibility between the nightly build of WebKit and a local job site, and inspected their source to track the bug down and report it. According to this agreement, I would not be able to do the same on Stack Overflow Careers.

Also, "any software associated with the Service"? Like jQuery or WMD? This appears to say that I'm not allowed to de-minify jQuery or WMD, as they are both software associated with the service.

This clause is also troubling, though not a show-stopper:

You agree not to access the Service by any means other than through the interfaces that are provided by Stack Overflow for use in accessing the Service.

Does this mean that I can't use a Greasemonkey script to improve the interface at all, or use any sort of update notification program to notify me of messages without manually logging in to Stack Overflow careers? Why would these uses be forbidden?

This concern has been adequately answered below.

Also, beyond those sections which I have significant problems with, I feel that the terms of service is in general too long, verbose, and full of things that make me uncomfortable. For instance, the choice of law and forum section, the fact that Stack Overflow can unilaterally change the terms of service at its discretion without notice, the fact that I'm required to provide warranties of correctness of all information provided to Stack Overflow (with no value placed on this; how much am I liable for if I make a mistake and accidentally provide some information that is incorrect?), but Stack Overflow makes no warranties to me beyond a 90-day refund period.

And the length of the terms of service is intimidating and, I believe, unnecessary. There's no need to specify illegal activities that are disallowed; they're illegal, of course they're not allowed, that's why there are laws against them. The long section on various kinds of spamming, hacking, and harassment could probably be reduced into one short paragraph. And the agreement repeats its disclaimers of warranty an liability several times, which is redundant. The excessive length means I had to read it twice before I felt reasonably comfortable that I'd seen everything in the agreement. That meant I had to spend a fairly significant amount of time reading and understanding the agreement, when most of that agreement is not particularly relevant to me.

(I'm not sure how to tag this question; it's not exactly a request for a feature, nor is it exactly a bug, so I've marked it as discussion, but I would like to see this actually fixed.)

edit: I'm still waiting on an answer or resolution to this. I would like to file my résumé on Stack Overflow Careers, but the reverse engineering clause is currently preventing me from doing so (the other issues are not stopping me, but they do make me feel a bit uncomfortable). It's especially troubling because, as pointed out in the comments, that clause is forbidding the exact same thing that Stack Overflow itself did in order to enhance the WMD editor that it uses.

I don't agree with the answer (and comments) which say in essence "don't worry about it, no one will ever call you on it". In order to purchase the service, I would have to state that I agree to the terms of service, which I do not. I refuse to sign my name to something that I fundamentally disagree with; it would be dishonest for me to agree to these terms of service.

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    Good catch... I normally wouldn't even consider de-minifying JS code to be equivalent to decompiling, and that restriction makes no sense otherwise in the context of a website where users never have access to the code. The potential Greasemonkey restriction is also rather worrying.
    – Shog9
    Jan 22, 2010 at 17:50
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    Right, I normally wouldn't either, but the "or otherwise reduce to human readable form" seems to describe de-minifying exactly. Jan 22, 2010 at 17:53
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    Speaking about intimidating long... Jan 22, 2010 at 17:54
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    +1 because I'd like to see a Joel/Jeff answer, not because I have a stance here(I don't). Jan 22, 2010 at 18:12
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    @John Heh, yeah, that came out a little longer than I intended. I started reading the agreement, found the clause about reverse engineering, and began writing a response. Then as I read more of the agreement, I kept on finding more things to add that bothered me. As long as my response is, it's an eighth the length of the agreement itself. Jan 22, 2010 at 18:30

3 Answers 3


Regarding the GreaseMonkey bit I would argue that a SO interface in this sense is not indeed the web site UI proper, but rather any service interface. The service interfaces provided by SO are things like the web site (of course), any API or web service that is officially blessed/released, the data dumps (possibly), etc. With GreaseMonkey you're still accessing the web site interface so it's not a violation of that bit.

Of course, though, INAL...

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    I Not A Lawyer? Jan 22, 2010 at 18:03
  • @George: correct
    – squillman
    Jan 22, 2010 at 18:04
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    This is the correct interpretation. Jan 22, 2010 at 18:34
  • OK, fair enough. I did consider that interpretation, but wanted to check on it. Jan 22, 2010 at 18:43

I wouldn't worry about it:

  • It's probably there only for malicious intents. It's up to Jeff whether to sue you or not, and I'm sure he won't sue you for using a Greasemonkey script.
  • In some countries (such as most of europe) there are laws that prohibit prohibiting reverse engineering software
  • Most of the time it's impossible to prove in court
  • Even if it can be proven, if you didn't do anything malicious no jury or judge in their right mind would make you pay more than a few dollars, if anything

Anyways, not a lawyer. But still.. Don't you have anything better to do than to worry about this? :D

  • "It's probably there only for malicious intents." Correct. It's also similar to almost any other TOS. Jan 22, 2010 at 18:35
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    Oh, don't be so sure.. have you met our crack legal team? meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10630/… Jan 22, 2010 at 18:37
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    Even if it's only there for malicious intent, if I agree to the terms of service, then I have agreed not to do any de-minification at all. I do not like agreeing to things that I will not follow; if I say that I will do something, I will do it, if I say I won't, I won't. By agreeing to these terms of service, I would be agreeing to something that I would rather not agree with; even if nothing will ever come of it, I don't like being dishonest. Jan 22, 2010 at 18:37
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    @Michael Even if it is similar to other terms of service, I disagree with such clauses in those terms of service as well. And there are many terms of service I've seen that are less onerous than these ones. Jan 22, 2010 at 18:40
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    @Jeff: your legal team has crack? I think I want in.
    – squillman
    Jan 22, 2010 at 18:41
  • It doesn't seem possible for our TOS to restrict your rights with regards to jQuery and WMD since they already have their own licenses. This is just to cover cases where we've intentionally obfuscated something, which as far as I know as of this date, there are no instances. We'd have to take Jeff to court first anyway: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/01/wmd-editor-reverse-engineered Jan 22, 2010 at 18:48
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    @Michael Their licences are copyright licenses; they specify requirements I must follow if I wish to copy jQuery or WMD, modify them, or distribute them. The Stack Overflow Careers terms of service is a contract, that I must agree to if I wish to file my resume with Stack Overflow Careers. A contract can impose additional limitations beyond what a third-party copyright license implies (for instance, a non-compete agreement could prevent me from working on jQuery or WMD, too). If you have no instances of intentional obfuscation, why not remove that part of the ToS until it's necessary? Jan 22, 2010 at 20:12

As usual, I am not a Lawyer, the following is strictly personal opinion and should not be considered legal advice.

The careers website is a little more strictly legalized than the rest of the "trilogy" for a variety of reasons.

That particular clause, for instance, is likely primarily meant to protect Careers in the event that someone breaks into the system and uses it for nefarious purposes. If sensitive information leaks out, and a person sues Careers, then Careers can point out that another user broke the terms of service, and therefore Careers is slightly less liable than it might be otherwise.

In other words:

  • It's unlikely that the agreement will be changed, even if it means that you won't be able to use their service.
  • It's unlikely that this particular clause will ever be proactively enforced - it is only meant to be used after-the-fact, not to spur legal action, but to stop legal action.

That being said, the clause says what it says, and means what it means. I can't say that I fully read your question, but:

  • If you wrote the question hoping to get the clause changed, sorry - you're probably out of luck.
  • If you wrote the question hoping for a legal statement or interpretation from the owners of "Careers", sorry, you're definitely out of luck. Consult with a lawyer if you must understand how this clause is likely to impact you, and the consequences of such action should it occur. At the end of the day, it's not much more than a game of risk/reward.

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