PayPal must have had a change of heart.
ProtonMail, the secure email service whose PayPal account was suspended without warning on Monday, announced this morning that its access to the account has been restored. As the company says in an update to the blog post tracking the status of its supporters’ funds:
PayPal has let us know that the restrictions on our account have now been lifted and we have been able to extract our funds. Thank you for your support on this matter, it no doubt played a large part in getting PayPal to do the right thing in record time.
Earlier this morning, I wrote a story about ProtonMail’s inability to access its funds in which I noted that PayPal has a history of preventing secure email services from using the money their supporters have given them, perhaps as part of its larger wish to placate the government:
PayPal is no stranger to withholding funds from secure email providers. It previously froze the funds of an Iceland-based company that crowdfunded support for a similar service, saying it would not free up the funds unless the company released the first version of its product or provided PayPal with “an itemized budget and [their] development goal dates.” (It released the company’s funds shortly after Ars Technica and other outlets reported the story.)
That might have been attributed to PayPal’s aversion to crowdfunding and its attempts to save naive consumers from scammers, but the researchers behind ProtonMail claim it was targeted because it’s designed to protect users from the eyes of the National Security Agency.
There seems to be a pattern here. PayPal makes sure a secure email service can’t access the funds ordinary people gave them to support their cause; the groups behind those services cry foul; and then PayPal restores access to the affected accounts once the media gets onto the story and notes the fervor with which the payments company fucks with these groups.
Maybe next time it can skip this rigmarole and allow people to support whatever companies they wish to support, regardless of the government’s interest in read our emails or Pierre Omidyar’s never-ending concern about what eBay’s shareholders might think when PayPal excuses itself from deciding about how its users spend their money.
Update: A PayPal spokesperson sent Pando the following statement after this story’s publication:
PayPal recently made changes to the way it handled accounts of people who were using crowdfunding sites to support their ideas. In response to customer feedback we established a streamlined process to specifically support crowdfunding campaigns. This process involves engaging crowdfunding campaign owners early on to clearly understand their campaign goals and help them ensure their campaigns are compliant with our policies and government regulations.
In the case of ProtonMail, a technical problem this week resulted in PayPal applying restrictions to the account. We have contacted ProtonMail today to solve this and can confirm that ProtonMail is able to receive or send funds through PayPal again. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Even if ProtonMail was erroneously targeted because of a new policy affecting crowdfunders, ProtonMail says that the spokesperson with whom they spoke when they wanted to learn why their account had been suspended without warning expressed concern about the legality of the service and whether or not it had government permission to encrypt emails. Considering that, and given the fact that another secure email service just “happened” to be targeted in the past, things aren’t nearly as cut-and-dry as PayPal is trying to make them seem.
[Image courtesy Steve Wampler Photography]