Payment Processor Stripe Buys Into Transparency and User Rights

Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired

Stripe, the fast-growing online payment processor known for its ease of use, announced Friday that it is committing to transparency and user rights, following the path blazed by Google and Twitter.

“Our goal with Stripe is to help build the economic infrastructure of the internet,” general counsel Jon Zieger wrote in a blog post. “Economic infrastructure, like other fundamental layers of the internet, requires trust and transparency.”

Specifically, Stripe, which makes it simple for sites to accept payments online, says that if it gets a legal request from a third party to stop doing business with a user, it will post the request to the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse website. That site publishes copyright takedown notices sent to web companies, and its most prominent contributors are Google, Twitter and GitHub.

As Stripe will be the first payment processor to submit takedown requests, Chilling Effects is creating a new category on the site.

Co-founder Patrick Collison hastened to say that the company isn’t changing its policies about which companies it will serve nor should people take the post as an indication that it’s gotten a lot of such notices.

“This is much more about getting the right policy in place for the future,” Collison said, noting that Stripe just began accepting payments for Canadian companies, its first step outside of the U.S.

It’s not clear how often payment processors get asked to stop working with a site or on what grounds. But the power and lack of transparency by the net’s dominant payment intermediaries was demonstrated in the fall of 2010, Visa, Mastercard and PayPal all cut off donations to WikiLeaks after the publication of a trove of U.S. diplomatic cables.

The companies cut off WikiLeaks on the grounds it was engaged in illegal activities, though the site has never been prosecuted in the U.S. and many legitimate news sites also published many of the cables, without retribution from the payment companies.

“We concerned about intermediaries being used to control what kind of content is available on the internet,” Zieger said, while noting that there are about 50 categories of users it doesn’t work with.

Stripe also says it’s instituting the same subpoena notification policy as Twitter, committing to informing a user, when not barred from doing so, that someone is subpoenaing their record. This allows the targeted user to try to quash the subpoena in court. Twitter has spent significant resources fighting to allow its users to resist government subpoenas — including winning the right for WikiLeaks associates to try to quash a grand jury subpoena for their Twitter records.

The company also said that it would be trying to figure out how to provide transparency reports regularly about how many requests it gets, a practice that was pioneered by Google and then followed by a number of companies including Dropbox, Github and Twitter.

“It’s a really important movement,” Collison said. “There’s almost a coalition forming. It is coalescing.”