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So this question about getting around a website block turned up, and raised in me a curiosity of how much assistance we should give to someone trying to get around a website block.

While in this case it's quite clear that it's just the website itself has blocked the user, what if it was someone in Turkey trying to access Wikipedia for example, should we help them then?

Is there a moral guideline somewhere as to where to help and where to stand back and ask yourself if you're doing the 'right' thing or not?

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    I don't think we should help people trying to circumvent IP blocks. – Burgi Feb 2 '18 at 17:13
  • “…what if it was someone in turkey trying to access Wikipedia for example, should we help them then?” Then they should be told in the comments to use a VPN. But guess what? Most people know what a VPN is. So guess what again? If they are asking how to get around a block and not willing to use a VPN they want us to provide some secret magical workaround we don’t have and cannot provide. And that is an endless, tedious and unproductive process nobody here should waste they time on. – JakeGould Feb 2 '18 at 17:23
  • @JakeGould: Yes, I suppose most people who have over 25,000 reputation points on Super User know what a VPN is. It’s probably true for most computer geeks and power users. But “most people” — without any qualification / restriction? What about a high school student, who knows how to use a computer (but not so much about configuration / administration), who is trying to do research for a term paper, e.g., on biology or history? – Scott Feb 2 '18 at 20:47
  • @Scott Can you please look at the question and the original poster’s comments and then realize how utterly uniformed you are at the topic at hand. This “script kiddie” wants to get unbanned so he can scrape data from a site that has banned him from scraping. This person does not just want to circumvent in bypassing an IP address block, but believes they have a right to do what they want to do because it is not “illegal.” The question is a joke. – JakeGould Feb 2 '18 at 20:55
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    One Of My Pet Peeves: When a user posts a question that is slightly abstract, no matter how detailed, people clamor for example(s).   But when example(s) are added to a question, people post answers that are tailored to the example(s) and do not address the larger question that the example(s) were only meant to illuminate.   This happens a lot on the main sites, but you can do it on meta, too. – Scott Feb 2 '18 at 22:07
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    And, even if I haven’t bothered to look at djsmiley2k’s example, do you really believe that calling me ‘‘utterly uniformed’’ is consistent with our rules of discourse? Did I attack you, @JakeGould? – Scott Feb 2 '18 at 22:07
  • @Scott I posted an update to my answer that addresses your concern, “When a user posts a question that is slightly abstract, no matter how detailed, people clamor for example(s).   But when example(s) are added to a question, people post answers that are tailored to the example(s) and do not address the larger question that the example(s) were only meant to illuminate.” The reality is abstract questions are often just passive aggressive demands. When specifics are shown the ludicrous nature of the request is often revealed. Simple as that. – JakeGould Feb 3 '18 at 1:41
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Yes! This entire site is about helping other superusers. So, we should not work here as a morality-evaluation-committee but rather answer the technical aspects of any question. We are never (not even indirectly) saying "please break the law in your country by doing it like this...", we are just answering questions.

If there are security issues, we might even provide an indirect service to the owners of assets: Because once the question and a valid answer is available here, it can be found through searches. So security risks can be identified. For example the classic "I have lost my password..." can be seen as "How could bad people get into our system, without knowing the password...". What is wrong with sharing technical knowlege - even about weak systems?

There are many commercial services on the internet, key term "VPN", who have a lot of blabla in their blurb, but one main feature is to circumvent certain blockages. Like Amazon customers being in the "wrong" country cannot watch certain movies, or whatever.

The poster of each question is responsible for what he does. Not just what he does with our answers, but what he does full stop.

I hate it, when I ask a question, and in return I get "you should not want that". I have good reasons normally. And I even try to give my motivation but sometimes I hear "too much information".

I can accept that certain users do not want to answer certain questions, but they should not second-guess the OP. Because a user here can never fully give all the context. And even what is legal or not is different from one country to the next.

  • By this token, Hackintosh questions would be considered on-topic, whereas that specific topic has been debated here before and the consensus was to declare it off-topic. – gparyani Feb 12 '18 at 3:28
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JakeGould did a great job of framing this in practical terms and avoiding the "moral" angle. So I'll just add a little about the "moral" angle.

The Stack Exchange has wrestled with the grey line virtually since its inception. There are a number of categories of issues.

Blatantly illegal activity. The SE has official policy in this area. We don't answer questions that enable it. That includes things like software piracy and circumventing protection against theft of services. The SE is also pretty vigilant about protecting and honoring copyrights.

Civil contract issues. The grey line runs through terms of service and user agreements. Half of the members believe it is unethical to facilitate violation of such contracts between a publisher/provider and the user. The other half believe it isn't our role to police such contracts and we should share technical information regardless of how it might be used.

The merits have been argued for years and the SE has generally avoided taking an official position. The exception is Hackintosh, which has been a recurring, high volume topic; the SE made an administrative decision to not support those questions. Any other questions of this type stand a 50/50 chance of being answered or closed, depending on who sees them (assuming they're otherwise good questions).

Intellectual property restrictions. Many users (particularly those who don't create software or web sites for a living, or work in IT), don't think in terms of intellectual property; that someone invested time to create it, and relies on it for their livelihood. Or they may be aware of it but consider certain big corporations to be undeserving of all of the revenue from their products. So we get questions about circumventing restrictions on intellectual property. There are basically two categories: things you own and need access for personal use, and things you don't.

  • Things you own: If you have purchased something and own it, there is generally not a problem with removing DRM for your own personal use or backup (this is a glittering generality, not legal advice). The site guidance on those cases is to give the benefit of the doubt:

    Therefore, unless the post looks egregiously illegal, assume it is being asked in good faith about removing DRM on things you own, for your own fair use.

  • Things you don't own (this includes things on a web site for which you may have limited access rights): This may seem different from piracy when the question is about information on a public web site that is locked or protected against routine copying.

    Our user base with the knowledge to answer is generally pretty good at closing those, or at least challenging the OP for a legitimate justification. But there are often users in the knowledge-sharing camp who see no problem with answering. This should typically fall under the guidelines of prohibited questions, but sometimes aren't obvious to all users.

Controls by repressive governments. These tend to be on the other side of the grey line. There is no official policy on these. Many/most users view answering how to circumvent these as the morally correct side. But it's a slippery slope deciding what's repressive and what's legitimate, and which countries are repressive and in what ways. Some people consider any restriction by any government as repressive, and opinions vary as to which countries' governments are "good" and "bad".

For example, not long ago, there was a question about getting a laptop onto a plane past the TSA inspection. Yes, the TSA rules tend to be ridiculous, but do you really want to potentially help a terrorist get a bomb on a plane? Questions are public, so regardless of the merits of the OP's needs, they aren't the only ones with access to the answers.

Computer security. This encompasses issues like accessing a computer without the password or malicious attacks. Here, the ethical question is in how the information might be used, not necessarily in the question, itself. There are legitimate uses for the information, like getting into your own computer, learning about computer security, and developing protections against malicious activity. There are also obvious unethical uses.

I'm not aware of any official guidance, but there is precedent. Generally, bypassing passwords has been an acceptable topic, perhaps because it is such a common innocent requirement and the information is readily available, anyway. I've seen a few questions on the theory of how various malware works, how to get malware samples, and how to conduct specific types of hacking.

The responses often reflect the question. These generally don't raise concern when the question is asked about accessing the user's own system, or an academic exercise using commonly available tools. However, questions that don't express a "legitimate" need or intent often get push-back. This isn't so much due to any official guidance as readers exercising common sense.

Bottom line: the SE has very limited official guidance on ethical issues; it's tangential to the technical nature of the sites like Super User. So for much of the ethical territory, there is no official "should or should not". People will apply their own moral compass. Hopefully, vigilant users will notice questions or answers that are ethically suspect or potentially dangerous. They can comment on the post to educate and warn, raise the issue here or on the Ask a Super User Moderator chat, or flag or vote to close or delete, depending on rep.

  • “Hackintosh is the biggest example, and the SE made an administrative decision to not support those.” Another angle to this specific thing is in the case of Hackintosh machines, the hardware is so wildly varied—and tweaks to make that hardware work so idiosyncratic—that the topic would be too broad from the get go even without legal issues. “Yes, the TSA rules tend to be ridiculous, but do you really want to potentially help a terrorist get a bomb on a plane?” Excellent example. – JakeGould Feb 3 '18 at 5:28
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    I gave you a +1 because of a good summary of the issues. Still I do not see how you have answered the question. Should we, or should we not? You are listing many different cases (good), but for each case you do not give your answer... – Martin Zaske Feb 3 '18 at 12:08
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    “Hackintosh is the biggest example, and the SE made an administrative decision to not support those” True. But funnily, it's not even the best example as macOS can nowadays be downloaded freely and legally by anyone with access to a macOS system, so installing a Hackintosh amounts to a (civil) breach of contract and not to copyright infringement. Conversely, several users here on SU and other SE sites think "it's OK" to link Hiren's Boot CD, which is an illegal ripoff of Windows XP and other commercial programs. – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 3 '18 at 15:51
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    @MartinZaske, that was kind of my point. What people should or shouldn't do is a matter of opinion and opinions are very divided among the members. Members should be cognizant of the issue and use the site's tools described in the last paragraph when they think ethical issues are involved, but the actual site guidelines are pretty limited. – fixer1234 Feb 3 '18 at 20:38
  • @AndreaLazzarotto, I'm not familiar enough with the "legal" status of Hiren's. I was describing a "class" of issues, the civil breach of contract category, and "biggest" referred to quantity of questions rather than degree of issue. SE doesn't have an official position on those, but Hackintosh was a single topic with enough questions that an "official" position was taken. – fixer1234 Feb 3 '18 at 20:50
  • @AndreaLazzarotto “… so installing a Hackintosh amounts to a (civil) breach of contract and not to copyright infringement.” If you have the skill and knowledge to deal with any of the road bumps you might encounter if/when setting up macOS on non-Apple hardware. To me, someone asking a Hackintosh question on a non-Hackintosh forum is someone who knows enough about what a Hackintosh is to get in trouble and then wants us to bail them out because they want to save some money on a macOS system. Any answer provided in a case like that has limited benefit to the larger community at best. – JakeGould Feb 3 '18 at 20:55
  • @JakeGould I totally agree on the "limited benefit", I was just underlining the kind of double standard. – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 3 '18 at 21:02
  • @fixer1234 technically, the TOS explicitly forbid posting infringing material so Hiren's boot CD recommendations are against the rules even without policy. I acknowledge what you said about the Hackintosh policy. – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 3 '18 at 21:03
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    @AndreaLazzarotto: The Stack Exchange Terms of Service say “Subscriber … will not contribute any Subscriber Content that (a) infringes, violates or otherwise interferes with any copyright or trademark of another party.” OK, I presume that your statement about the nature (“illegal ripoff”) of Hiren’s Boot CD is correct; so posting the content of the CD would be against the TOS.  But what about posting a link to it?  What about mentioning its name and suggesting that people Google it? (IANAL) Look at the pretty rainbow: so many different shades of gray!    :-)    ⁠ – Scott Feb 3 '18 at 22:59
  • @Scott, the term "copyright" alone appears 24 times in the TOS, not counting the parts that talk about content which "otherwise interferes with" it. I am definitely not going to argue about the whole TOS in the limited space of comments. It is sufficient to say that several mods on the SE network have agreed here and on AskUbuntu that download links to Hiren's Boot CD should be removed. – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 4 '18 at 14:55
  • @AndreaLazzarotto:  Well, I would argue that, no, it is not sufficient to say that several mods on Super User and AskUbuntu have agreed to something; it would be more helpful to link to such statements.  And it would have been helpful if your first comment had done so, or at least stated that “several” moderators had agreed to this position, because otherwise it looks like just your unsubstantiated opinion. – Scott Feb 4 '18 at 19:05
  • @AndreaLazzarotto, I would think that if Microsoft considered it infringement, they could have shut Hiren down long ago. Is there any evidence that Microsoft has a problem with it? Any chance that people have simply assumed that an issue exists? – fixer1234 Feb 4 '18 at 22:47
  • @fixer1234 I suspect it might have to do with the fact that the official Hiren's website does not contain any download link at all, it merely states what Hiren's Boot CD contains. There are however various third parties that distribute the disk. – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 4 '18 at 22:48
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    Re: legalities in the general sense, I'd suggest looking at the DRM question – Bob Feb 7 '18 at 6:00
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    @Bob, good link. It looks like it's generally not an issue to remove DRM for your own personal use on something you've paid for and own. – fixer1234 Feb 7 '18 at 6:18
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The original poster’s question that this meta discussion is in reference to is too broad and too idiosyncratic. The “morality” is not an issue.

This is a canard of a question. Asking how to get around a block is one thing. That question in particular comes from someone who doesn’t understand—or wants to admit—they were blocked due to scraping activities, they clearly barely understand how an external IP address is used and—even if they followed the generic advice on how to get around a block—they will most likely still get block again.

If someone engages in behavior that “punishes” them in some way from they way a particular website manages access we cannot help them. They are in over their heads and believe they are entitled to things just because… And that should not be supported.

Not a question of “morality” as much as an issue of why waste any time dealing with a question so broad and idiosyncratic.

And to address this aspect of your question:

“…what if it was someone in Turkey trying to access Wikipedia for example, should we help them then?”

The question as you pose it is too broad and implies that somehow the folks here on Super User—other Stack Exchange sites—would somehow be biased against answering a question like this. Here is the issue with the straw man you present:

  1. Being Able to Post Here Indicates Some Internet Freedom: Someone who can access Stack Exchange sites should not be blocked from sites like Wikipedia. Yes, this is arbitrary and based on how different countries deal with National “firewalls” but it is fairly safe to assume that merely being able to post here is an indication that the poster should have some rudimentary access to the Internet that is not filtered oppressively.
  2. Don’t Think Someone is Helpless in an Oppressive Country: While someone might live in an oppressive country, it does not mean they are completely helpless. Famously there is the “Great Firewall of China” right? Guess how many people in China know what a VPN is on some level? Far more than you think.
  3. Given the Above, Someone Asking for non-VPN Ways of Getting Around a Block are Not Going to Get an Answer: Okay, so someone lives in an oppressive country. Their Internet is screwed. Chances are good they know what a VPN is but, guess what? They might not want to purchase access or share VPN access with someone else. If that is the case, nothing can help them. It will be an endless discussion of “But what if I do this?” and “But what if I do that?” and at the end of the day all of these “great” ideas are things the original poster could do without asking any of us for permission. So the fact they are persistently asking us for—what can only be described as—magic is a big indication that the question cannot be answered.

At the end of the day one can only help people who are willing to help themselves.

And circling back to the specific question, if someone knows they have been banned from scraping a site, and they know if they simply “asked” for help they would be lucky to get a response and they are stubbornly insisting that we provide them with a way to scrape a site that has banned them using the logic that it isn’t “illegal”… Well, we can’t help them.

If someone got kicked out of a bar for behaving badly and they were blocked from using the front entrance, what good will it do for anyone if they asked a patron to just open a back door or window to let them in? A fairly broad analogy, but the much larger question presented is what is the best way to scrape a site to avoid banning. And guess what? A question like that is too broad as well.

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    Thanks, I learned something today not related to technology: the word "canard" – I say Reinstate Monica Feb 3 '18 at 1:58
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    @Blackwood The original poster of the original question. Helping someone is one thing. Helping someone who is in over their head—and cannot reasonably be helped in a question/answer format—is another thing. – JakeGould Feb 5 '18 at 17:16

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