PayPal Surrenders, Still Needs Boycott

Posted on 26/02/2011 by


In the space of hours, PayPal blocked the account of Courage to Resist, got rightfully flamed, and then unblocked the accounts. It was a lovely little instance of a corporation being on the receiving end of some duly-deserved slapping around, and generally getting put in its place. Let us savor this wonderful victory over the capitalist running-dogs, comrades.

But in the midst of this celebration, I’d like to pause and parse this little affair apart. Why, indeed, did the capitalist running-dogs at PayPal bow to public pressure? After they canned WikiLeaks, PayPal got a visit from the Low Orbit Ion Cannon Array of Ultimate DDoS Doom, not to mention shrieks from pro-transparency supporters across the world. Weeks and weeks later, that account is still frozen; the commendable effort of the world-wide pro-WikiLeaks team have been for naught.

A few different possibilities come to mind, as to why this circumstance has turned around so rapidly. However, I’d like to dismiss out of hand that anyone in PayPal’s upper management actually gives a foetid dingo’s left kidney about Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, transparency, or indeed anything except ensuring the continuation of PayPal’s profit growth. Suggestions to the contrary fail to take into account the simple fact that PayPal is a corporation, not a charity. Corporations are narcissistic to the extreme: they care only for their self-preservation. If you still don’t believe me, this is the response from PayPal’s director of communications, Anuj Nayar:

Upon review, and as part of our normal business procedures, we have decided to lift the temporary restriction placed on their account because we have sufficient information to meet our statutory ‘Know Your Customer’ obligations. The Courage to Resist PayPal account is now fully operational.

As a counterpoint to the rambling whinge-fest of the recent PayPal release, I post here for our pleasure the complete PayPal statement about discontinuing service to WikiLeaks:

PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.

No whinge there, just pure smug “it’s our ball so go frack yourself” corporatist public policy, reiterated in this smarmy little release here.

In my reading of the Courage to Resist announcement, I have the sense that all is not well behind the happy public face of PayPal. That PayPal felt compelled to make what is, to me, the non sequitur “[l]et me be clear, this decision had nothing to do with WikiLeaks” comment is telling. Allusions to “normal business practices” ring hollow, and indeed amount to a note from the Wizard of Oz stating ‘Dear Dorothy, please pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’

In essence, PayPal is running scared: something is clearly terrifying for them regarding “the Courage to Resist situation”. From what I read of the press release from Courage to Resist, they only mentioned WikiLeaks as an example of PayPal being generally untrustworthy, capricious, “morally bankrupt”, and incestuously in bed with the US government. In other words, a pretty fair and balanced description!  I reject completely their drivel about “normal business procedures”, so I hazard to suppose that PayPal is terrified of 1) the LOIC Array blasting their servers into e-dust, 2) getting the HBGary treatment, or 3) a potentially explosive public backlash.

Point 1 was probably not far from their minds as the news surged through the activist channels, because even I don’t PayPal is so stupid as to assume Anonymous isn’t itching for another round with PayPal’s servers. Point 2 was even more likely to be a concern; maybe PayPal was an HBGary customer? At any rate, I frankly slather at the thought of a PayPal email dump. Imagine, if you will, the email from Joe Lieberman telling them to shut off donations to WikiLeaks, or his DHS goons will beat the upper management’s cute little puppies.

That is neither here nor there, just a lovely little moment of fantasy. To continue, and given the explicitly economic focus of the PayPal, I posit they’re trying to keep a lid on “the Courage to Resist Situation” for pecuniary reasons. A good translation of the press release could be “Please don’t hurt us, really, we didn’t mean it! We really want to keep taking our hefty percentage-based transaction fees! Can’t we all be friends?”

PayPal has made a serious misstep, obviously in freezing Courage to Resist’s account, but also in not grovelling for forgiveness after thawing it. It is, to use a turn of phrase, their inch-giving moment: they have shown they bend to the public will, and can be made to do so quickly. Those who are pro-WikiLeaks, anti-war, pro-Bradley Manning, or just generally wanting to have a civilised country instead of an out-of-control military machine, have an opening to take a mile. PayPal can and must be pushed for more concessions: they should be pushed into renewing WikiLeaks’ account, and providing contractual assurances to non-profits that their accounts will never be disabled for spurious and arbitrary reasons.

Oh, by the way, hit up Screw PayPal; it’s an excellent resource for those who have gotten, well, screwed. Additionally, please add PayPal to your official boycott list. If you don’t have one, start one now! If PayPal is already there, write it in again, just to send a message to the universe. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, they are taking their marching orders from the US government, and are therefore aligned against transparency and freedom of the press. To wit: “The [WikiLeaks] account was again reviewed last week after the U.S. Department of State publicized a letter to WikiLeaks on November 27, stating that WikiLeaks may be in possession of documents that were provided in violation of U.S. law.” The “PayPal was not contacted by any government organization in the U.S. or abroad” part can be, I think, politely ignored as filler.

To conclude this post, I made this comment on the PayPal blog. I wonder if they’ll get back to me… Nah! Bloody capitalist running-dogs, they never return my calls.

Good to know that this press release has nothing to do with a decision which has “nothing to do with WikiLeaks”, and that it is “not our policy to comment publicly on account dealings”.

It’s also good to know that “as part of our normal business procedures, we have decided to lift the temporary restriction placed on their account because we have sufficient information to meet our statutory ‘Know Your Customer’ obligations”.

The question arises: if the decision is psty normal business procedures, and a press release about those procedures is not normal, how is the procedure still normal?

Enquiring minds want to know! Thanks!

And yes, I noticed the typo too. After I had posted it. Sigh…

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Posted in: Activism