Yet again, PayPal plays the Grinch

After the hullabaloo raised by Regretsy's April Winchell over PayPal freezing her charity funds, one would think that the company ought to revise its operating policies. Instead, it's at it again.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

After the hullabaloo raised by Regretsy's April Winchell over PayPal freezing her charity funds, one would think that the company ought to revise its operating policies. Instead, it's at it again.

(Credit: CBSi; TARDIS image by Sceptre, CC BY-SA 2.5)

This time, says Regretsy, the victims are Steve Berry and Ben Morris, two contributors to Dr Who Magazine, and long-time fans of the TV show. For the past four years, Berry and Morris have been working on a book called Behind the Sofa, a compilation of personal anecdotes and stories about Dr Who, from people such as Neil Gaiman, Charlie Brooker, Mark Millar, Bill Oddie and many others.

All profits will be going towards a charity called Alzheimer's Research UK.

Sounds great, right? Apparently so many people thought so that the money flooding in triggered PayPal's "Too Much Money" alert, the account was flagged for investigation and everything was frozen.

Here's where it gets nasty. Steve Berry said on the Behind the Sofa website:

They won't tell me the details. They would like to investigate my account first. They are asking me for documentation about my business (I am not a business) and proof of invoices/suppliers, etc (which I cannot give, because I am still in the process of completing the final manuscript of the book with design and layout all being carried out by some excellent volunteers). So there is no way for me to resolve the situation using their "resolution centre".

(Credit: Behind the Sofa)

And there is no way to contact them otherwise.

Francine flat refused to provide me with information about how to contact them (by phone) to discuss to issue, or indicate how long my account will be frozen pending their review. She then terminated the call. I cannot use the account at all until PayPay deign to contact me.

Over 100 celebrities have given their time and contributed memories to the book, not to mention four years of my time getting the project to the stage where it is ready to launch. But, of course, there is no way to explain any of this to PayPal because they simply don't want to talk.

Now, we understand that when money and bank accounts are involved, a certain measure of security is required. No one is disputing that. What is a problem is that PayPal is proving, time and again, that it is unwilling to compromise unless pushed to do so by the weight of extreme public displeasure.

And it's problematic, because PayPal can do so as much as it likes, and completely get away with it. Thanks to its firm toehold with eBay and its wide acceptance generally, no matter how many people publicly vilify PayPal for its actions, millions are going to continue to use it — millions of sellers, who make a living on the internet, and millions of buyers, who have very few other options.

But it's not these people who are hurt by PayPal's unwillingness to accommodate its customers. It's the independent sellers. And what happens when PayPal decides that its remit extends to dictating what people are allowed to sell — erotic literature, for example?

PayPal is an e-commerce behemoth, with branches and tendrils reaching into every corner of the internet. We use it because it's everywhere, and because, so far, a valid alternative has yet to present itself.

How on earth can we possibly fight that?

By doing what we can. By boycotting the service, if at all possible. By remaining vigilant. And by continuing to call out PayPal — and any other company — when they engage in behaviours and policies that, frankly, are unconscionable. Eventually they have to get the message ... right?