It’s time for PayPal and Venmo to come clean on account closure policies, center human rights

Access Now and 21 other organizations are pressuring PayPal and its subsidiary Venmo to come clean on the opaque practices that interfere with payment systems used by millions of people daily, and place human rights at the center of its policies on account freezes and closures.

“PayPal and Venmo have permeated the daily lives of people, companies, and organizations all over the world, establishing themselves as the go-to payment options,” said Isedua Oribhabor, Business and Human Rights Lead at Access Now. “These opaque decisions to close or freeze accounts harm individuals and businesses and Paypal and Venmo should be transparent about any policies that could limit access for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on their services.”

Through an open letter to PayPal and Venmo, the coalition is calling out the company’s account closures that seem to have been used to pressure or single-out websites that host legal, but somewhat controversial, content. Amongst a growing list of arbitrary takedowns and blockings, PayPal shut down the account of online bookseller Smashwords over concerns about erotic fiction, froze the account of News Media Canada over a payment to submit a story about Syrian refugees in an awards competition, and refused to process payments to the whistleblower website Wikileaks. Last year, Venmo was sued for targeting payments associated with Muslim or Arab nationality or ethnicity, while PayPal and Venmo were widely criticized for stalling urgent efforts to provide bail support for protestors amidst Black-led protests for racial justice.

The open letter calls on PayPal and Venmo to:

  • Publish annual transparency reports that, at a minimum, indicate how many requests to surveil, limit, investigate or shut down accounts were received, how many of these requests were complied with, and how many accounts were impacted;
  • Provide meaningful notice to people who use the platforms, that includes detailed information on what aspect of PayPal’s terms were violated or why the account was shut down; and
  • Offer a timely and meaningful appeal process led by  an individual or panel not involved in the initial decision to carry out action against the account, for all people, organizations, or companies  whose accounts are frozen or shut down.

Read the full letter.