PayPal Gets Inexplicably Snippy

Bill Quick sends notice that he’s apparently run afoul of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. The company writes:

Your account has been limited for violating PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy regarding Offensive Material. The Policy prohibits the use of PayPal in the sale of items or in support of organizations that promote hate, violence, or racial intolerance; items which graphically portray violence or victims of violence; or items closely associated with individuals notorious for committing murderous acts within the last 100 years.

The implication being, since Bill’s been using PayPal for donations, that something on his site fulfills any of these categories.

What on his site does this? Got me. At the moment, Bill’s promoting intolerance of John Kerry and CBS News, but since about half the politically-oriented blogs in the country are doing the same, if this is the problem, then PayPal is about to lose a significant chunk of its donation business. The only other thing which I can find that is potentially offensive is that Bill keeps up a picture of the World Trade Center being hit, emblazoned with the exhortation to “Never Forget!” If that’s what’s bugging PayPal, I expect it’s going to be walking into a buzzfan of bad publicity. Bill also promotes libertarianism in a general sense; I guess maybe someone at PayPal finds that intolerant, which given the libertarian ethos (“do what you want, just do it away from me”) is mildly ironic.

Basically, it’s hard to see what’s gotten into PayPal’s fool head. I’m genuinely curious to know what on Bill site is actually in violation, because aside from Bill’s own distinctive editorial voice, the content is not at all different from hundreds of not thousands of blogs out there. If he’s in violation, so’s a significant percentage of the blogosphere.

As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don’t have a “tip” button on the Whatever — I don’t like the idea that anyone should feel they have the financial right to tell me what’s acceptable on my own damn site. That’s a decision I get to make, thank you. I accept PayPal donations for Agent to the Stars, mind you, but that’s neither here nor there regarding the Whatever. In any event, if PayPal ever came back and told me that I would need to make a change to Agent because it was in violation of their Acceptable Use, I’d point them in the direction of Hell and tell them to have a nice trip. I don’t need PayPal’s stamp of approval.

My assumption, barring the discovery of an entry where Bill genuinely advocates genocide or baby-strangling, is that PayPal’s made some sort of stupid error; a spider crawling through his site came across some combination of words that sends up a red flag and/or an automatic “violation” letter. Like I said, I’d be interested to know what triggered the letter; it would be instructive to know how PayPal thinks, in any event.

“My initial inclination is to tell these little tin gods to take their attempts to dictate the nature of my content elsewhere,” Bill writes, and I’d concur. Life is too short to have to worry about whether one violates PayPal’s acceptable use policy. I’m pretty sure that Amazon will be happy to process Bill’s donations.

Update: in the comments, Patrick Neilsen Hayden writes:

“Jeralyn Merrit of the excellent TalkLeft has received the same threatening notice.”

It’s related to a video of one of the recent Iraq beheadings, which I believe Bill also linked to. As I said in the comment thread, nice to see it’s bipartisan stupidity on PayPal’s part.

11 Comments on “PayPal Gets Inexplicably Snippy”

  1. No kidding. But it WOULD be at least interesting and probably useful to know something about how PayPal does work. If anybody who reads this site has any background with PayPal, policy-oriented or otherwise, since John’s kindly allowed the last post to be thought of as an open thread, maybe he’d let THIS post be open-thread-able, too, and you could speak up re: the PayPal thang?

    Personal experiences, glowing recommendations, difficulties, venomous hate: anything goes! All in a day’s work! Whatever.

  2. I don’t know about PayPal, but I do know that my art website was once given a Porn II rating by WebCrack’s censors, merely for being housed on the same server as a website that discussed infantilism.

    I’ve also had pictures censored or rejected because one of them was about the experiences of a rape victim, and the word “rape” caused the art site to go, “Hey, that’s a bad word,” and bam! my picture was bounced.

    I’m also reminded of Dick Armey’s rather misguided advocacy of wholesale censoring programs aimed at kids and libraries a few years back, until somebody showed him that his own congressional site was also being kicked out, due to the use of the word “dick”.

  3. One of Bill Quick’s commentors suggests that the trouble might be because of his linking to one of the beheading videos from Iraq. The email says that to “appeal” the limitation on his account, he will need to:
    “1. Remove those items from your website that violate PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. For example, any link to images or videos of terrorsit [sic] executions;”

    They might be pre-emptively cutting contact with anybody linking to them, just in case one of the webpages does support terrorist groups. If so, then they’ve probably sent out a lot of those emails recently.

    I do know that PayPal has been getting serious about their “acceptable use” policy, banning accounts that buy or sell porn, or gambling.

    The other thing that it might be is a joke. I noticed the misspelling (quoted above), and assumming that PayPal is sending out a lot of these, you’d think that it would have been vetted by legal, and run through a spell-checker at least once. I’d be interested to know how his PayPal account has been “limited.”


  4. Actually I’m not aware of any kind of “limiting” on PayPal accounts, either you can use your account of you can’t. In the instance of a violation your account is suspended, incoming payments are rejected and you have no ability to retrieve funds until the matter is resolved (something remarkably difficult to do with these guys), it’s a suspension and to the best of my knowledge there is no middle-ground alternative. John, think you could obtain and post a copy of the full mail headers for this alleged PayPal notice? (I’m not one of Bill’s readers so I reckon it’d be impolite to go there myself and ask upfront :P)

    As to how you get suspended when it actually happens, PayPal are notoriously twitchy and have very poor customer relations, they’re fine as long as you don’t get into their foul zone, but once you do trouble starts, the real problem is that they tend to be extremely subjective in their enforcement as to which sites do and don’t fall foul. Best to have a read through this site for more information

  5. Jeralyn Merrit of the excellent TalkLeft has received the same threatening notice:

    In her case, it seems to be because she linked to a site that linked to one of the beheading videos.

    Since Jeralyn’s site is all about crime and legal issues, it’s hard to imagine her categorically agreeing to not link to anything which might itself link to something violent or distressing. Moreover, Jeralyn is herself a pretty capable lawyer, so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

  6. PNH writes:

    “Jeralyn Merrit of the excellent TalkLeft has received the same threatening notice.”

    Nice to see it’s bipartisan stupidity on PayPal’s part.

    I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t imagine there’s a whole lot either Bill or Jeralyn can do about it; the TOS appears to give PayPal the right to make these decisions, and I imagine a flotilla of eBay/PalPal lawyers went over this stuff to make sure it could fly.

    But it surely seems stupid on PayPal’s part. Neither of these sites *encourages* violence, and while I haven’t the slightest desire to watch the video in question, it quite arguably has value beyond mere prurience. Worring about what is acceptable to PayPal or not would be more of a hassle than it’s worth.

  7. Oh, look, another reason to dislike PayPal. I confess, as an amateur PayPal watcher, this is the first I’ve heard of them censoring content other than the illegal or outright pornographic. But there’s a first time for everything.

    My usual gripe against PayPal (this is for Carl) is that there is a body of anecdotal evidence (which may not count as solid proof, I concede) that PayPal sometimes plays fast and loose with its customers, “losing” money or not crediting transactions and then freezing out accounts if they complain. This doesn’t affect individual accounts (ie. used for PAYING money) so much, but it’s been tossed around a lot among people who have merchant accounts (i.e. are using PayPal to ACCEPT money, sometimes on a reasonably large scale). PayPal denies all this, and maybe they’re right – but when I first heard about it I became aware that

    1) PayPal, not being a bank, has absolutely no oversight, no supervisory authority whatsoever, no one who can come in and force an audit, etc.

    2) Their TOS basically allows them to do whatever they damned well please. They’ve revised it twice that I know of and each time the customer-recourse section has gotten skimpier.

    Combined, those two scare me. So I don’t use them anymore. Which puts me at a loss because no one else is in the web-micropayment game to that extent. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a system ….

  8. When I checked the dailypundit site, first thing I saw on the home page was an advertisement for “cheaper than dirt” ammunition. Not that I approve of censorship, but there you go.

    I’ll point out that Paypal can do business with whom they please, yadda yadda yadda. Seems to me that so long as they don’t sit on your money (which they’ve been accused of, I know), they have the right to break off a business relationship with you.

    Anyone looking for an alternative, I recommend the excellent Neteller. Based in Canada and publicly traded in England — regulated by both countries. And low fees and non-evil policies to boot. Disclaimer: I know some folks who work there, but I’m not involved with them myself, except as a customer.

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