Several Slack users with connections to Iran found their accounts deleted this week accompanied by a simple note about U.S. sanctions on the country they may have visited but don’t do business in.
Many took to social media Thursday morning after their accounts were unceremoniously shut down by Slack, which has an office on Howard Street. Many Iranians were impacted despite not being in a country they don’t live in but do visit.
“So @SlackHQ decided to send me this email. No way to appeal this decision. Nope. Just hello we’re banning your account,” tweeted Amir Omidi, another Slack user who lives in Pennsylvania. “No way to prove that I’m not living in Iran and not working with Iranians on Slack.”
In a statement provided to SF Weekly, Slack said it relies on IP addresses to comply with the sanctions that apply to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Crimea. With that policy, someone who has visited one of those countries — from tourists to the many Iranian Americans in the Bay Area visiting family — could have their accounts removed.
“We do not possess information about nationality or the ethnicity of our users,” a Slack spokesperson said. “If users think we’ve made a mistake in blocking their access, please reach out to email@example.com and we’ll review as soon as possible.”
But many took to social media to air complaints about unanswered messages to the Slack support team as their work, school, or other social connections were suddenly disrupted. One Twitter user from Belgium posted a screenshotted email sent to the company outlining that his last visit to Iran was in 2015 and that his company is paying for a service that did not receive even a 24-hour notice of its termination.
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) suspects that Slack, like other companies without clear instructions on the Trump administration’s new sanctions, appears to have gone above and beyond out of fear. Tech companies, in particular, have services not confined by borders, says policy director Ryan Costello.
“I do think that this comes back to the fact that these companies don’t have a good way to determine who is in these countries,” Costello says. “There’s effectively no recourse.”
NIAC has made suggestions to companies like Bank of America and Venmo to refine their methodology to identifying a possible violation. The group sent a letter to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield in San Francisco on Thursday urging the same and reminding them that Iranians not in Iran who do not intend to re-export the goods or services do not fall under the U.S. sanctions.
“The intent of sanctions is not to deny the Iranian people access to Slack,” Costello adds. “We consistently see that Iranian people are bearing the brunt of these sanctions and these impacts.”
UPDATE: On Friday, Slack released an apologetic statement that said they have restored access to most accounts and will continue to unblock other accounts. Slack users may not have access while they are in sanctioned countries but will once again they are out of the area.
“We acknowledge that we made several mistakes here. Our attempts to comply with these regulations were not well-implemented. In our communications, we did not treat our customers and other users with the respect they deserve,” the company wrote. “And finally, in the rush to understand the impact and begin the process of mitigation, we were slow to communicate what was happening. To everyone affected, we apologize.”