Today I got a timely reminder about the dangers of over-reliance on one particular online service provider.
I’m currently travelling in the US, and bought a camera lens from eBay. As part of that, my PayPal account got flagged for ‘suspicious activity’, and I had to re-validate my ownership.
The three options were to either receive a text on my mobile, a call on my mobile, or upload a picture of my Government issued ID. I can’t get texts or calls on my UK number whilst abroad – a problem I’ve run into before – and I’m generally against giving copies of my ID to online companies. However, in this case I was stuck, so had no choice but to do so.
All was fine, until I received the following e-mail:
We’ve reviewed the documents you submitted and determined that you were under 18 years old when you opened your PayPal account.
You must be at least 18 years old to sign up for a PayPal account. From now on, you can’t send or receive money with this account.
If you’ve outstanding buyer complaints and you want to refund your
customers, you can do so via the Resolution Centre in your PayPal account.
To continue using our service, please open a new PayPal account. You’ll need to use a different email address.
I get that PayPal need to abide by the laws applicable to them (although, apparently they don’t always agree), but this is ridiculous. Permanently suspending an account of someone who has been a customer for over a decade without providing any alternative (such as taking the continued assent to the updated Terms of Service as an affirmation of consent) is terrible service at best. The fact that you can sign up with a different e-mail address (and are encouraged to) makes a mockery of their account suspension, and lofty arguments about breach of contract.
There are other issues though, that may not be all that obvious at first. For one, I realised just how many payments I have tied into PayPal. Netflix, Spotify, Dropbox, and a host of other services use PayPal for their subscriptions. Luckily, these bigger platforms offer an easy way to change your payment method. Needless to say, I am now paying directly from my credit card rather than PayPal.
It isn’t just the Netflixes of the world that use PayPal’s recurring payment system for subscriptions though. There are numerous smaller entities who rely on it for their memberships, with no clear or easy way to update. My subscription to a film processing lab in Aberdeen, as well as the monthly donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation are both now in limbo as I have no idea how to fix them without cancelling and signing up again completely.
There are other questions too:
- The old PayPal account still has recurring payments active. What happens to them if there are no payment methods available?
- The e-mail addresses tied to my PayPal account are now blacklisted too – which means I have few (reliable) options on what to use for any new account.
- What happens if I get a refund for an item on eBay, that I’ve paid for using my old PayPal account?
All in all, a sharp reminder of the powerful hold that large online companies can have over your – very real – day to day interactions. It’s easy to say don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, but when one provider has a monopoly on a particular sector – it’s much harder to do in practice.