|Mon Dec 6 2010 22:34:29|
PayPal and Amazon Become Part of Wikileaks Controversy
By: Ina Steiner
Internet companies and payment processors found themselves in the midst of the controversy swirling around the online publisher Wikileaks, including eBay through its PayPal division, and Amazon.com through its AWS hosting division.
Wikileaks calls itself a non-profit media organization that is dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. "We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists." While Americans may have thought that meant shining a light on less democratic foreign governments, many of them were aghast to find the site began publishing documents that exposed U.S. military, government and business secrets.
As a result, many people cheered when Amazon.com kicked Wikileaks off of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure. After rumors that politicians had pressured it to do so, Amazon issued a statement denying political pressure and reading in part:
"We've been running AWS for over four years and have hundreds of thousands of customers storing all kinds of data on AWS. Some of this data is controversial, and that's perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn't rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won't injure others, it's a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere."
PayPal also took action against Wikileaks. In a statement on the PayPal blog on Friday that was closed to comments from readers, PayPal wrote:
"PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action."
Not everyone agreed it was the right thing for Amazon.com, PayPal, and other service providers to do, and some called for a boycott of the companies (search Twitter for #cablegate #boycott). But they are far from alone in taking action - Declan McCullagh reports in Cnet today that MasterCard has also pulled the plug on payments to WikiLeaks, and a Swiss bank also closed an account belonging to Wikileaks operator.
With funding drying up, we wondered what would happen to the money in Wikileaks' PayPal account. Would PayPal forward the money to Wikileaks, or would it return the money to supporters who had donated it?
"When PayPal permanently limits an account due to an Acceptable Use Policy violation, it is the company's policy to hold the funds for a period of 180 days. Once the 180-day timeframe has elapsed, 3 things can happen: 1) The funds are returned to the account holder; 2) A court or government can seize the funds or 3) The funds remain in the PayPal account."
Update 12/9/10: See, "PayPal Targeted in DDOS Attacks as Cyber War Erupts over Wikileaks" - Link to article.