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PayPal blocks donations to The Grayzone that mention Iran (thegrayzone.com)
66 points by oska 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

How to take payments without a chance of political censorship in 2019, stolen from The Ancient Wizards of Technology's Past:

View the following.


Follow the instructions to get a PO Box. To avoid mail containing harmful or annoying items, I recommend a small one.

Put the mailing address of your PO Box on your website, and tell people sending cash to it to address it to "YOURSITE," possibly appending "Donation Fund" if applicable.

Be careful to remind the reader that they need not put their real (or any) name on it, and that they can get stamps anonymously and location-randomized with ease if desired.

This also works amazingly if you want to charge for hardware or hosting, especially hardware or hosting that's privacy-focused.

Congratulations! Your readers/customers can send you money from almost anywhere without identifying themselves, and you can rest easy knowing that any dollars meant for you will reach you.

Ha! I just lost a hundred dollars just last week this way. Funny story - my aunt has a habit of mailing family holiday cards with $$cash$$. I am subscribed to “informed delivery digest” from US Postal service. I even saw the image of the letter I am (was) going to get. That was the last I heard of it!

https://faq.usps.com/s/article/Mail-Theft https://ehome.uspis.gov/fcsexternal/default.aspx

Lots of people are employed by the Fed to handle these exact cases! I'd recommend getting it investigated, if nothing else, it'll help them keep justifying their jobs.

Mail theft is a federal crime. I would pursue this with them only if for the simple fact that if you don't, the next thing that gets stolen maybe your shiny new electronics being shipped.

> rest easy knowing that any dollars meant for you will reach you

I feel like your faith in the postal services that cash may go through is misplaced.

Mail fraud (FedEx/UPS aren't mail) gets you a felony, and as long as you send through USPS you should be more than fine.

I'm not sure where you live but I'm in New York and around the Holiday season letters that look like holiday cards are routinely delivered by USPS already ripped open, and I am left to wonder how many don't arrive at all.

Sounds like a local thing. I would be having a onversation with my postmaster if that happened here. I always forget how much people give up to live in the city.

I'm not sure where you live but I'm in New York and around the Holiday season letters that look like holiday cards are routinely delivered already ripped open, and I am left to wonder how many don't arrive at all.

For non-businessThe PO checks addressee name against authorized boxholder name(s) and rejects mismatches.

and also it's very easy for someone to steal said donation from the mail - may be even enroute!

If sent through the USPS, that's incredibly unlikely.

For everyone in this thread mentioning Bitcoin/crypto: in no way does using cryptocurrency exempt you from US sanctions. Given the way most crypto exchanges are run, I wouldn't even think that it offers much protection against getting caught.

Its not an issue of US Sanctions. Grayzone is a US publication owned and operated by Americans in the United States. Its a matter of circumnavigating Paypal's interference in their receiving donations. Nobody has suggested that any of this money came from Iran (where Paypal doesn't even operate). Use crypto would potentially be an effective way to donate to Grayzone without requiring Paypal's approval.

>Given the way most crypto exchanges are run, I wouldn't even think that it offers much protection against getting caught.

Ever heard of localbitcoins.com? Most exchangers require no KYC whatsoever.

Open source, decentralised exchange, no registration required, all keys stored locally: https://bisq.network/

Whether it's in the from of government regulations or the free market deciding to prefer another service, society shouldn't be allowing this sort of behavior from large companies, but the sad truth is, many people don't care and most likely just rationalize it as "it doesn't affect me" or "It's just a few dollars".

Iran is on the FATF black list and features a lot in the OFAC sanctions lists, any transaction mentioning Iran is going to be blocked.

No idea why this is downvoted; it's the plain truth. The same thing goes for other sanctioned countries: (Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria), as well as for transactions mentioning sanctioned individuals or organizations.

Is Cuba still sanctioned? I thought the main embargo was lifted a few years ago.

Cuba was removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 2015, but it remains under heavy economic sanctions and travel restrictions -- enough so that mentioning "Cuba" or "Havana" in an electronic payment memo will probably get your account locked temporarily while the compliance department takes a look at it.

Interesting that that really seems to mean that you can't mention those countries in transaction messages. It seems insanely silly, but since it's US regulation I'm not at all surprised.

You can mention them but your transaction will be blocked until it is reviewed. The review process will depend on the FI in question with some not as efficient as others...

The fines for breaking US sanctions are just to big to ignore so risk appetites tend to err on the side of caution.

The US government is so strict on all transactions due to Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing laws. This donation clearly meant well, but it’s totally understandable that PayPal blocked it given everything that has just happened in Iran.

Yes, this clearly pushes people towards crypto, but PayPal is doing what the Government is mandating and is merely protecting itself.

Current events in Iran aren't a factor -- this is a sanctions issue and always has been. If you tried to make a Paypal donation mentioning Iran a month ago, that would have gotten blocked too.

Agree. Iran has been sanctioned for a long time, But PayPal would almost certainly would be overly cautious given recent events and maybe more edge cases are getting denied than a few months ago.

Anyway, either way we clearly agree here

I believe that the Western sanctions against Iran mean that it is currently illegal for individuals to transfer money from USA et al to Iran.

If so, it is quite obvious that Paypal and other financial institutions would take steps to prevent this from happening with their knowledge.

This sort of financial censorship is a textbook example of a problem perfectly solved by Bitcoin-class cryptocurrencies. A censorship-resistant digital currency may not be useful to you personally, but it's painfully obvious there are heaps of people who legitimately need them in our modern world for use cases that would never cross your mind.

Bitcoin isn't censorship resistant when you want to pay out into real money. The exchanges can block it, especially if you're on one of the various "do not trade" lists.

You don't get it. The full benefits of Bitcoin are realized when you stay in the system. Receive BTC. Spend BTC. Avoid converting to fiat ("real money") when possible. As adoption increases[1] year-over-year it becomes increasingly feasible to do that, to stay in the system.

[1] https://bitinfocharts.com/comparison/bitcoin-transactions.ht...

Ah, so where in Iran can I live only using Bitcoin and no paper money whatsoever?

No part of this story happened in Iran. It was a US American sending money to a US American media website.

> On January 3, a reader tried to make a donation of $10 to The Grayzone through PayPal. The small donor, a US citizen who lives in California, wrote the following message to accompany the donation: “Thanks for all your excellent work and especially the Gray Zone’s coverage of the murder of Soleimani and war with Iran. You fellows are so insightful and brilliant.”

I’m sure you’d have no trouble finding someone in Iran willing to take BTC and pay literally anything for you.

Sure, there’s still paper money involved at some point. But there’s no need to use western exchanges directly.

I did not say that it was possible to live using Bitcoin in Iran. Read my comment again.

I would argue that the problem is that nothing about Bitcoin is feasible to carry any large scale system that could handle even one country's day-to-day transactions. At best, Bitcoin is currently an instrument for investors at wallstreet to make even crazier bets than normal, it's not a good tool for actual money.

Huh? The world is full of exchangers that require no KYC whatsoever.

The Russian guy who pays my rent with SEPA transfers has never asked for my name.

Atleast once your tax office wants some details, using an exchange without KYC requirements could net you some trouble. Doesn't really fix that Bitcoin is at best pseudonymous, not anonymous. If any of your addresses is linked to your bank account, then your identity is linked to your wallet.

Not certain, but I think most of the time, rent will be under the amount/volume threshold for KYC requirements.

My rent is firmly in the Bay Area territory, so probably not.

Anyway, none of these guys do KYC.

Totally not. Cryptocurrencies are even worse than real money when your government can just shut down or filter/watch the internet and whatnot.

you comment as if bitcoin and other currencies aren't used DAILY for transactions (that get cashed out regularly by the way) by people who got their coin in shady ways and want to get their cash without interference. There are all sorts of fairly simple ways to circumvent the supposed obstacles you mention and they're especially useful for controversial donation-type scenarios like the above. As long as the crypto being sent has been anonymized along the way, anyone in any fully registered exchange in any given country could easily cash it out without there being any connection to the crypto having come from a donation to some X site that's politically controversial.. This is basic stuff. Despite inherent flaws, it works for these types of things and definitely more so than paypal or other large companies which regularly freeze transactions for all sorts of bullshit moral, political, social and etc reasons that don't even require illegal activity.

Crypto may be sort of crappy for major money laundering (drug cartels and mafias already get plenty of help on that from happy managers at huge "respectable" banks, see case of HSBC and Mexican cartels as an example) but crypto could definitely work for small transactions that aren't illegal but very likely to be blacklisted by companies like paypal.

I mean, if I were running a wikileaks, porno or similar type site, crypto is exactly what would be a useful fail-safe. It may be imperfect and I know the HN crowd has an emotionally laughable collective disdain for it but let's use some common sense no? Instead of just criticizing groundlessly.

Just another reminder how powerful the US is and how extreme sanctions they have put on Iran.

The United States seized funds my supervisor sent to his friend who mentioned the word "ISIS" in a Venmo transaction.

Be careful of your transaction messages.

It's almost as if we should be using end to end encryption so we can just speak our minds and make jokes without self censorship.

And maybe avoid banking services that are less culpable to their customers than even traditional banks? Paypal, venmo, etc are aggressively customer hostile even compared to the traditional banking sector.

Yup. People look at me weird once in a while, but cash always works. No fees. Censorship resistant, close to anonymous, and accepted everywhere, network or not. I can do without yet another app selling my data.

Cash is fine, too. But really I am just advocating for like, Credit Unions, or even traditional for-profit banks like Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, etc as places for storing your money rather than Paypal or Venmo. Zelle instead of Venmo for quick payments to friends. Credit cards or debit cards or whatever instead of Paypal anything.

I love cash.

Seems like just a dumb keyword match. At least make it more context sensitive or have a human review it first.

FWIW, you would see reports of this kind of thing long before the recent violence. People would mention "persian rug" and get their accounts locked or transactions reversed. Super lazy embargo enforcement.

> Super lazy embargo enforcement.

In a way I can understand that; if you just want to do your job and some politician decides now that "iranians = bad" and makes you responsible for restricting your transactions with them, you wouldn't be very motivated either.

They probably just considered the costs and concluded that it'd be cheaper in the short term to block a few unrelated transactions than to implement a huge system to accurately filter out only the right transactions.

This is no defense, but we already knew that big companies like paypal don't care to be "the good guys"

Well, even simpler than that: the penalties for failing to block an actually-bad transaction are massive, potentially denominated in millions of dollars. The financial consequences of blocking a legitimate transaction are comparatively minor.

Well done PayPal. You have just legitimised the use case for using cryptocurrencies as a way of sending money without being censored.

What a spectacular own goal here.

A solution for this kind of payment filtering is using a cryptocurrency like Nano. Unlike PayPal, it has no fees, and the transfer takes less time too. There are many other advantages that I won't go into.

Maybe a solution would be for people to use cryptocurrency for donations.

Am I missing something or where is the screenshot of a mail saying anything about Iran?

So stop using PayPal?

Use Bitcoin, problem solved

For as much flaws as bitcoin has, this kind of bullshit is the biggest reason why I hope it will ultimately become a more viable form of payment.

I would even use Dogecoin if it came down to it. :)

Or, you know, cash.

Or even better, use Monero so your donations become untraceable.

Do try to use a cryptocurrency that does not depend on a pollutive proof of work.

What do you mean by “pollutive proof of work?” Are you talking about its environmental impact?

The operation of the Bitcoin network involves wasting a significant amount of energy.

The environmental impact of bitcoin is undeniable, either by polluting through using coal power or by using up renewable energies that could have been used more productively elsewhere.

Of course Bitcoin's energy consumption isn't ideal, but you've got to realize something: Bitcoin mining is only profitable if you have access to very cheap energy. This is why there are so many miners in China that use hydroelectric power, because there's so much excess energy that wouldn't be used otherwise.

Miners don't really use coal power or use up renewable energy that could be used elsewhere. That would be too expensive for them.

Even if Bitcoin only uses CO2-free energy, they hog energy that would be available for other projects, so those projects need to use more coal power in return, hence it creates pollution.

>“To comply with government regulations, PayPal is required to review certain transactions.”

For mentioning the word Iran. Terrifying.

I guess the best to hope for is that the Institute for Justice or the ACLU pick this up and sue for their free speech rights. But even then, the only consequence would be taxpayers burdened to pay up.

I am aware. Even going back in history, I find most are surprised to know even Abraham Lincoln really went after journalists and the press.

Anyways, I don't know why I was downvoted. Hopefully not because people disagree with that hope.

I don't see how you could make the case that PayPal donation messages are different than FB posts or tweets, in that the platform has every right to remove whatever content they want. I also doubt the financial industry regulations are caught up and can weigh in on this issue.

Paypal has the right to, not the government.


Mentioning the word "Iran" is not, in any sense, terrorism.

While you are entirely correct, there are clearly those who disagree and support the association.

Free speech doesn’t apply to private entities.

These filters exist due to legal requirements (and paypal has gotten into legal trouble for not filtering Iran-related transactions well enough in the past), so it's not quite that simple

There’s no legal requirement to filter transactions with this message:

> “Thanks for all your excellent work and especially the Gray Zone’s coverage of the murder of Soleimani and war with Iran. You fellows are so insightful and brilliant.”

There’s zero indication that this might be an Iran-related transaction.

So Paypal is the Cloudflare for money?

4-5 years ago, didn't they block Wikileaks on a whim?

As for the specific issues you're raising about identity and fees, I'm having none of those issues, but then I also avoid PP whenever possible so I use it maybe once every other month.

Paypal has been exactly this awful for at least a decade, if not its entire existence.

Verify who you are is mandated by the USA PATRIOT ACT.


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