In a surprising and very worrying move that could have big implications for both VPN providers and users, it seems that Swedish payment provider Payson (who operates a service similar to PayPal) has been instructed by Visa and MasterCard to block payments to VPN providers.
Visa and MasterCard have so far refused to comment, but it has long been a policy of theirs to block payment to organisations seen as facilitating copyright infringement. How services that simply provide anonymity for users on the web can be classed as such is beyond us however, as while piracy is certainly a common reason for people to use VPN, so is evasion of censorship and the need to protect ones true identity when living under restrictive regimes where free expression can lead to arrest or worse! VPNs provide a neutral, and for many a vitally important, service that simply cannot reasonably be held responsible for the way in which they are used.
Even more sinister in the wake of the global NSA spying revelations is the thought of a political motive behind the move. Peter Sunde, founding member of The Pirate Bay and iPreditor (a popular VPN service affected by this block), expressed this concern in the following statement:
‘It means that US companies are forcing non-American companies not to allow people to protest their privacy and be anonymous, and thus the NSA can spy even more. It’s just INSANE… it’s insane to censor a totally legit system that is there to avoid censorship and surveillance’.
In addition to iPredator, a number of other Swedish VPNs providers, including Mullvad, Anonine, VPNTunnel and PrivatVPN have also been affected.
Other payment methods, including Bitcoin which cannot be easily blocked by anyone, are of course still available, but the move may represent a push by either the US government or copyright enforcement bodies to limit access to what are at present perfectly legal anonymising technologies.
As noted however, Visa and MasterCard have yet to comment, and the full details of the situation have yet to emerge. We contacted large VPN provider Hide My Ass, who said they were not worried, and expressed doubts regarding the credibility of the source of the reports. We are therefore at present actively investigating this story, and await a response from other VPN providers to our questions. We will of course keep our readers informed as more information becomes available.
Update: PureVPN has got back to us to say it has not experienced any disruption, and does not expect any problems as it does not advertise itself as a ‘torrent VPN’.
Update 25/07/2013: Both Visa and MasterCard deny any involvement in the ban, but as we report in this article, they also won’t confirm that iPredator is allowed to process credit card payments, and it appears that iPredator may be on a blacklist of companies allowed to accept credit card payments. In addition to this, iPredator’s woes have been further compounded by PayPal blocking it, and freezing its account for 6 months.
Update 27/08/2013:The Payson wallet feature is available to iPreditor customers, but they no longer accept credit card payment. Following publicity about the story, PayPal has reinstated iPredator’s account. Now iPredator is one of the first services to be banned by Paysafecard’s crackdown on VPNs.