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PayPal's Autodials Stir Up Some Controversy

This week PayPal accomplished a minor miracle, insofar as it managed to partially break the Internet without officially joining the Kardashian/Jenner family.

However, for those of us who are not Kardashian-Jenners, all publicity is not good publicity, and this week’s collection of headlines likely had the members of PayPal’s executive team yearning for the sort of peace that goes along with toiling away in obscurity.

From The Washington Post: “A Horrible New PayPal Policy Opts You Into Getting Robocalls”

From Gizmodo: “PayPal’s Shady New User Agreement Opts You Into Robocalls ”

From CoinTelegraph: “Users Outraged Over PayPal Terms and Conditions That Allow 'Robocalling'”

So what horrible, shady and outrageous thing did PayPal do last week? What new miserable condition now lurks in the dreaded Terms of Service - those rules we all promise we read when we check that box, but no one really reads?

Sacrifice of the firstborn?

Fee hike?

Bitcoin is now the only accepted medium of exchange?

Sadly none of those things are there. We looked.

This is about autodialing. And texting.

An issue that, as it turns out, people feel very strongly about.

The news broke last Tuesday that PayPal’s new ToS - set to go into effect in July - force users to consent to receiving automatic communications from PayPal for a wide variety of purposes. This was presented as a non-negotiable feature; users could agree to robocalling in the future, or they could stop using PayPal, but there was no splitting the baby and opting out. By Friday, PayPal had rethought that stance and affirmed that there would be a mechanism of some kind allowing users to turn down/off the dreaded autocall.

And while it's clear that the world will move on, it at least seems worth asking - what just happened? Did the tech press have a collective 72-hour nervous breakdown over robocalling? Is PayPal breaking new ground in invading the lives of its customers? Or, heaven forbid, do we all have to actually start reading the terms of service to see what we are agreeing to?

The answer to the last question is yes - if for no other reason than you should always actually read things you are agreeing to. But also because when the headlines get apocalyptic, it is helpful to be able to assess if the end is actually near, or if the tech press got a little bored waiting for real news to happen.

Robocalling: Dialing For Disaster

So what happened?

Last week PayPal posted its updated user agreement to go into effect July 1, 2015. Among enumerated changes were those to section 1.10 - about how PayPal can use your mobile number.

You consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages from PayPal at any telephone number that you have provided us or that we have otherwise obtained. We may place such calls or texts to (i) notify you regarding your account; (ii) troubleshoot problems with your account (iii) resolve a dispute; (iv) collect a debt; (v) poll your opinions through surveys or questionnaires, (vii) contact you with offers and promotions; or (viii) as otherwise necessary to service your account or enforce this User Agreement, our policies, applicable law, or any other agreement we may have with you. The ways in which you provide us a telephone number include, but are not limited to, providing a telephone number at Account opening, adding a telephone number to your Account at a later time, providing it to one of our employees, or by contacting us from that phone number. If a telephone number provided to us is a mobile telephone number, you consent to receive SMS or text messages at that number.

The part that had most tech writers up in arms was the part about autodialed calls - more commonly known as robocalls.

The Post reported that the “new” ToS “threatens to bombard you with 'autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages,'” while Gizmodo led with “PayPal, a company specializing in online payments and f***ing (censorship is ours) people over, has a new user agreement.”

Harsh.

And while not every writer covering the situation was quite so colorful, the concern echoed across the tech press last week coalesced around the following: PayPal has decided that we as a nation are about to spend Fourth of July weekend dodging robocalls and text messages from PayPal. And - worse - there is no way to avoid it.

When asked about how a user could opt out from autodialed calls, PayPal initially responded by posting instructions about how to close one's PayPal account.

And while the PYMNTS team is united in our opposition to robodialing in general, last week’s explosion of rage over it seems a little unusual.

Tales From The ToS - Who Really Reads The Fine Print?

For all the widespread concern about the soon-to-be-in-effect terms of service, it seems very few actually read the terms of service that are currently in effect.

If, as the reporting indicates, the main concern is about automatic opt-in for autodials - then the recent wave of media concern is a little late to the party. PayPal’s ToS have opted users into autodialing for years.

“By providing PayPal a telephone number (including a mobile telephone number), you agree to receive autodialed and prerecorded message calls at that number,” is how section 1.10 begins right now - and how it has began since 2012. No change there.

What's new to the policy is the list of seven reasons PayPal might use an autocall or text. This does not replace a previous list of uses - it codifies the uses of autodialing where there was no such enumeration before. Some of those reasons relate to providing information about a user’s account, troubleshooting problems or resolving a dispute.

Moreover, the concern about autodialing also seems a bit surprising - given that Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all reserve similar rights in their ToS vis a vis autodialing.

It also seems notable that in the same section PayPal notes that it will use your contact information for autodialing, it also notes that it will not be selling that data to third parties.

A quick tour of Google and Facebook’s user agreements indicate that any information you give them, or any information they gather by watching you on other websites, becomes their property - and thus theirs to provide (aka sell) to any third-party vendor they see fit.

This is a long way of saying that while Google and Facebook will not be autodialing you, it seems certain that can provide your data to someone who will and who bought and paid for the privilege to do so.

For now, however, PayPal has decided that it’s not a fight worth fighting over.

“Our policy is to honor customers’ requests to decline to receive autodialed or prerecorded calls,” a PayPal spokesperson told BGR Thursday (June 4).

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