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Who's At Fault

By Steve Jones,

If your software fails, who's at fault? I'm not sure I could get three developers, DBAs, or system administrators in the same room to agree on what went wrong. Even at the same company! At different companies I'm sure they wouldn't agree. And if a lawyer gets involved, I'm not sure the truth is ever discovered.

I'm really not sure what the truth is in some cases. Things have gotten so complex that often I think even if everything worked as expected, if every API was solid, we'd still have "bugs" from these complicated interactions that no one had thought of between the various components and parts of the system.

 This blog is a good summary of the issues involved with trying to determine who's at fault if software loses data. The problems with trying to then sort out what liability there is from some mistake would be more difficult to determine.  It mentioned that some places in the US are trying to institute some sort of software liability, something that doesn't seem like it will get passed.

As much as I would like to see companies writing better software, and as much as I think they ought to stand behind their products, I'm not sure how we do this in practice. The arguments from a technical side would be interesting, but I'm not sure that lawyers, judges, and juries would understand them. I think that determining where fault lies in a civil case would most likely come down to the best oration, not the best or worst code.

We don't have a great system to ensure software performs as advertised, and I'm not sure we ever will. I  keep hoping that the state of software development will improve in my lifetime, and this will become moot.  In the meantime, the best defense, as always, is making sure you save often and make backups.

On another disk.

Steve Jones


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