San Francisco – Nearly two dozen rights groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have joined together to tell PayPal and its subsidiary Venmo to shape up its policies on account freezes and closures, as its opaque practices are interfering with payment systems connected to many First-Amendment protected activities.
“Companies like PayPal and Venmo have hundreds of millions of users. Access to their services can directly impact an individual, company, or nonprofit’s ability to survive and thrive in our digital world,” said EFF International Director of Freedom of Expression Jillian York. “But while companies like Facebook and YouTube have faced substantial scrutiny for their history of account closures, financial companies like PayPal have often flown under the radar. Now, the human rights community is sending a clear message that it’s time to change.”
The coalition sent a letter to PayPal and Venmo today, voicing particular concern about account closures that seem to have been used to pressure or single-out websites that host controversial—but legal—content. PayPay shut down the account of online bookseller Smashwords over concern about erotic fiction, and also refused to process payments to the whistleblower website Wikileaks. Last year, Venmo was sued for targeting payments associated with Islam or Arab nationalities or ethnicity, and there are also numerous examples of sex worker advocates facing account closures.
Today’s letter calls on PayPal and Venmo to provide more transparency and accountability around its policies and practices for account freezes and closures, including publishing regular transparency reports, providing meaningful notice to users, and offering a timely and meaningful appeals process. These recommendations are in alignment with the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, a set of principles developed by free expression advocates and scholars to help companies center human rights when moderating user-generated content and accounts.
“More transparency into financial censorship helps civil liberties and human rights advocates see patterns of abuse,” said EFF Chief Program Officer Rainey Reitman. “It’s vital that PayPal and Venmo follow in the steps of other companies and begin publishing annual transparency reports.”
The signers of today’s letter include 7amleh - The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, Access, ACLU of Northern California, American Civil Liberties Union, Article 19, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research (CLEAR), Demand Progress Education Fund, European Legal Support Center (ELSC), Fight for the Future, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Global Voices, Masaar-Technology and Law Community, Mnemonic, New America’s Open Technology Institute, PDX Privacy, the Tor Project, Taraaz, Ranking Digital Rights, Restore the Fourth Minnesota, and SMEX.
For the full letter to PayPal and Venmo: