Big tech has too much power to cut off users without recourse.
I had two thoughts when I learned that PayPal dropped Epik from its services a couple of weeks ago.
My first reaction was, “It sucks that this happened.”
My second reaction was, “What an utterly bizarre way that Epik responded to the issue.”
It’s a shame that the bizarre response got in the way of a notable issue: the power that big tech companies have over their users. They make a decision and cut off users, often without any sort of warning or appeal mechanism.
When a business has little choice with who to work with due to the service providers’ network effects, it leaves little recourse to the small businesses out there. This is true for dominant payment networks and ad platforms.
Domain name sales database NameBio was cut off from PayPal today. It asked PayPal for an explanation and got a very simple and direct response. (Funny how that works.) Basically, PayPal had associated some of the domains listed for sale on NameBio with their prior use for file sharing and assumed NameBio was associated with file sharing sites. NameBio has appealed and is at the mercy of someone at PayPal to decide its fate.
It doesn’t sound like it will be a huge deal if PayPal says no. It would suck, but the good news is NameBio uses Stripe for recurring subscriptions.
Still, it is disappointing that the company severed its relationship in what was clearly an error.
I’ve experienced this twice with Facebook advertising. I’m not a big advertiser and spend about $1,000 a month on the platform. In 2018, I received a notice that I could no longer advertise because “We don’t support ads for your business model.”
This is not a good explanation.
My appeal was rejected without further explanation.
While my $1,000 a month isn’t much to Facebook, the business I was getting from Facebook was substantial to me. Losing Facebook upended my business model.
I had to use my own connections to get reinstated. That’s not how things should work.
About a month ago, my ad account was again suspended for “suspicious activity.” Facebook didn’t email me to let me know. I found out when I tried to boost a post.
Facebook reinstated my ad account about five days after I submitted a copy of my photo ID.
Low-paid people in review departments likely make many of these initial decisions.
Business Insider published a story last week about Google closing peoples’ accounts. Imagine if you used Google’s platform for email, calendar, files, etc. and you are locked out!
The biggest issue I have is when companies don’t give an explanation.
To be sure, there are times in which companies need to be coy about why they suspended an account. Companies don’t want to give away a trigger that they use to locate fraud and bad actors. I understand why Google might not want to tell someone why their Adsense account was suspended if it means bad actors can find a way around the filters.
But this situation is rare.
As long as the federal government is going after big tech for monopolistic practices, I hope they pressure these companies to give reasonable protection to their users.