Hot on the heels of the latest revelations about Netflix moving to block VPN users, it seems PayPal are now beginning their own assault on internet privacy.
Paypal are giants in the online-payment world. From their beginnings as a safe payment method for eBay auctions, the system spread to virtually every e-commerce site in the western world and they are now by far the most popular online money-transfer platform in the UK and USA.
It seems ironic that this company – which was in a large part responsible for helping millions to overcome the idea that online shopping was risky business – are now seemingly out to stop the next wave in internet security measures. So what’s the story behind this unfortunate (though not entirely unexpected) move?
The Test Case – UnoTelly
As far as we’re aware, the ban on VPN payments is not as yet a blanket policy. So far we’ve only seen it applied to a single Canadian VPN provider, UnoTelly. According to a recent article on TorrentFreak, UnoTelly received the following statement from PayPal:
“Under the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for items that infringe or violate any copyright, trademark, right of publicity or privacy, or any other proprietary right under the laws of any jurisdiction.
This includes transactions for any device or technological measure that descrambles a scrambled work, decrypts an encrypted work or otherwise avoids, bypasses, removes, deactivates or impairs a technological measure without the authority of the copyright owner.”
It seems clear by this statement that PayPal are going after the VPN provider for allegedly allowing unlawful access to copyrighted material. It’s tempting to believe this is targeted squarely at those using P2P software to illegally download pirated content. However that last part about “avoiding” or “bypassing” a “technological measure” hints that this isn’t just about copyright infringement – it appears to be a nod towards geo-restricted streaming services like Netflix, iPlayer and Spotify.
Why the ban?
As we discussed in our article about Netflix cracking down on VPNs, there is immense pressure on online companies to ensure that they are seen to make every effort to stop users accessing content they shouldn’t. In the case of piracy (ie torrenting films, tv, music and software) this is well justified. We all want to see content-creators properly paid for their efforts. However, many people use torrents for legal purposes and there is nothing inherently illegal about using BitTorrent.
The water is even more murky when it comes to paid streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon etc.
If the sole reason for this aggressive move by PayPal was in order to crack down on illegal activity, we’d be sympathetic. However, it seems far more likely this impending ban is due to pressure from large media corporations to prevent their content being seen outside of their control – even if that content has been paid for with a subscription to a streaming service. Instead of simply targeting illegal use, this is a move that could penalize law-abiding users for no good reason.
The Good News
So we’re not too chuffed with PayPal’s attitude on this issue, but it’s not all doom and gloom. As yet we’re only aware of one case where a VPN has actually been barred from using PayPal to take payments. We have received statements from a number of other providers saying that they no longer wish to be associated with ‘Unblocking Netflix‘ or any other streaming site – however these tend to be smaller providers with fewer payment options. It makes sense for them to take this threat seriously, but there are still plenty of providers who are happy to be honest about their service and none have yet been banned.
Which brings us to the next point… While most providers do offer PayPal as a payment option, most also allow you to use a whole raft of different systems to pay for your subscription. There are literally hundreds of other secure payment options out there, and many have the luxury of not being based in the USA – meaning the pressure to bow to lobbying from media companies is much less of an issue for them. So, if you find that you can no longer pay for your VPN via PayPal, you can be pretty sure that there are many other options available.
Use Bitcoin. Use Bitcoin. Just. Use. Bitcoin.
Paypal was never the best way to pay for a VPN service anyway. In fact, if you’re looking for a VPN to provide privacy and security – which after all is what they’re all about – then PayPal is a pretty lousy way of going about it. When VPNs make such a point of keeping none of your details in logs, why would you pay for one with a method that systematically logs all your payments, as well as your name, address and banking details?
By far the safest way to pay for a VPN provider is using cryptocurrency such as… you guessed it… Bitcoin. This is the only truly untraceable way to pay for anything online, so if you have the option (and the best VPNs all do), go for this above any other payment method. Problem solved.
In conclusion – while this is a disappointing move from PayPal, they are in the fortunate position of being a huge successful company, a side-effect of which is that they will always be a huge target for legal action. Like Netflix, they probably have little choice but to take steps like this to protect themselves, and though its an annoyance, it doesn’t need to have any major impact on your use of a VPN.