PayPal Could Take More Than a Penny for Your Thoughts
Analysis. What if a Silicon Valley giant could take money directly out of your pocket because its online enforcers didn’t like something you said? I don’t mean simply freezing your activities or booting you from a platform (as harsh and unjust as those penalties may be), but actually debiting your wallet?
That is a question many Americans are wrestling with after a recent blunder by PayPal — the popular peer-to-peer money transfer company with hundreds of millions of active users. Last weekend numerous media outlets reported that the company had tucked away new language in revisions to its Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that would prohibit “the sending, posting, or publication of any messages, content, or materials that, in PayPal’s sole discretion … promote misinformation.”
And it gets worse. Whatever PayPal deems to be a violation could result in a hefty fine — $2,500 — directly debited from the account of the accused.
Brendan Carr, a GOP commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, said PayPal’s move is “Orwellian.”
“This is why it is so vital that state and federal legislatures pass laws that prohibit discrimination by tech companies and protect free speech,” Carr tweeted.
The change also drew a rare rebuke from a past PayPal president — tech entrepreneur David Marcus.
“It’s hard for me to openly criticize a company I used to love and gave so much to,” he wrote. “But @PayPal’s new AUP goes against everything I believe in. A private company now gets to decide to take your money if you say something they disagree with. Insanity.”
After an ensuing firestorm, PayPal quickly reversed course. A spokesperson told reporters that the policy change notice had been publicized “in error” and that it contained “incorrect information.”
“PayPal is not fining people for misinformation and this language was never intended to be inserted in our policy. Our teams are working to correct our policy pages. We’re sorry for the confusion this has caused,” the company said.
Of course, the admitted error here raises another question: How did that language get into the draft revision in the first place? And how had that version moved far enough along within the company to be accidentally posted? That seems like a big “oops.” Should we just give PayPal a mulligan here and move on?
Among those who are skeptical is Mike Masnick, editor of the popular technology blog Techdirt. In an article this week he quipped that a big organization like PayPal would have at least a few lawyers reviewing any rules change like this one. “It seems clear that somewhere along the line someone at PayPal did very much intend to have this kind of policy,” he wrote.
Masnick also made an important observation that many media outlets have failed to notice: The directly debited $2,500 fine policy already exists in PayPal’s terms. In fact, it has been in place since at least as far back as September 2021.
So while the “misinformation” prohibition and other new language has been pulled back, the fine threat remains. And I can’t help but notice that among the prohibited activities referenced in the current policy is “intolerance that is discriminatory” — a vague, catch-all category that seems in our current climate like it could be interpreted in a perilously subjective manner.
“The fact that the $2,500 damages clause is still in the PayPal policy today still seems like a pretty big deal,” Masnick added in his piece. “Hiding the fact that a company might take $2,500 from you by burying it in an acceptable use policy no one is going to read seems like not a great thing, whether or not the policy includes ‘misinformation’ as a triggering event.”
So despite PayPal’s apparent course reversal, perhaps the problem isn’t actually fixed yet. Would you pray that the Silicon Valley giant rights its own ship? And let’s be praying for government officials like Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. — officials who are now tuned in.
“Allowing private companies to become thought police would be egregious and illegal overreach,” Scott tweeted last weekend. “My office will be looking into the validity of PayPal’s new policy and taking any necessary action to stop this type of corporate activism.”
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold (Proverbs 22:1).
Prayer point: Lord, please give our government and business leaders the wisdom to pursue policies that respect fundamental American liberties.
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