Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 18 April 2014

Don't share your PC - say PayPal

Most of us have a PayPal account.  In the last two years especially the internet money transfer system - I'm reluctant to call them a bank - has really come of age.  They have become the payment of choice for a lot of mainstream shopping sites and I have to admit it is really more convenient to click on the 'pay with PayPal' button than wade through a page of registration fields and commit to sharing my credit card details with yet another database.

The world has changed a lot since PayPal came to be.  Not so long ago we did all our online transactions using the 'house computer', the one that everybody jumped on to check email, surf the web etc.  Then laptops became affordable and households suddenly had choices about which computer to use.  Then along came tablets and smart phones, so more choice.  In essence, we all seem to have multiple devices we can use to do our online tasks. 

But with the explosion of devices comes the familiarity, so that we think nothing of jumping onto a friend's smartphone or tablet and checking our email, perhaps looking at the bidding for the gizmo we're hoping to 'win' on eBay, making that overdue payment with PayPal for yesterday's winning bid.  Well, PayPal aren't so keen on that last bit, it seems.  Probably not on the bits that preceded it either.  They've just emailed everyone who has a PayPal account, so that'll be everybody on the planet with an email address, to say that they are changing the terms and conditions. That seems routine, we get this all the time these days.  But embedded in the multipage document they've sent us all is a statement that effectively says we are not to share our computer, not even with our family.  Probably especially with our family.

I expect they've detected an uptick in fraud associated with shared computers. Being a global company, used ubiquitously for any number of transactions across the planet, they are likely to spot such trends much sooner than you or me.  In fact their exposure to this risk may well distort their perception, but to be fair, if it is fraud they probably end up picking up the tab.  That would make me a tad hypersensitive too, I guess.  So they are banning us from sharing our computers, tablets and smartphones, at least while we wish to remain customers of theirs.

On one level this is reasonable, on another it is outrageous.  The problem, I'm guessing, is that most of these devices have the capability of storing the username and passwords needed to access a PayPal account.  If an unscrupulous family member of friend was allowed access to the device they could use your PayPal account to buy something fraudulently I guess.  Assuming all the usual security protocols were in place, though, they would need to know your PayPal password and I'm guessing that only the registered billing address would be acceptable - I've never tried alternatives so maybe I'm wrong.  PayPal say that if you don't like the new terms then leave, your choice, because if you suffer a loss and have allowed anyone else to use your device then you could be on your own.  It's a little unclear if we're forgiven for not anticipating this message, because I reckon a lot of devices have been shared already. Well fair enough, but it would have helped if they flagged this openly instead of embedding it in a long complex electronic document.  I'm guessing most people won't know that by not writing to PayPal to terminate their contract they are implicitly agreeing with the terms.

I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that PayPal will have to ride roughshod over a slew of UK and European laws to absolve themselves of responsibility, regardless of what they write in their Ts and Cs, even if they were able to convince people to actually signify overt agreement.  They may be able to do this in the US, at least in some states, but not so this side of the pond.  My guess is that if you take reasonable steps to protect your passwords they will struggle to penalise you for letting your mum use your iPad and you were to subsequently suffer a loss through PayPal.  If they are feeling a little vulnerable perhaps they should beef up their security, which is in their control, instead of dictating who you are allowed to share your electronic devices with instead.

Meanwhile, while you still have a PayPal account (the changes don't kick in for a month or so) why not browse over to my website to take a look at my books, or perhaps pop into Apple's iBook store, Barnes & Noble's website and, if they've got over their current problems, Kobo's bookstore to take a gander at Assassin.  If you pre-order it before PayPal introduce their new terms it should go through, even if you've borrowed the device you order it on!

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