Slack shutting down user accounts with links to Iran

Messaging company Slack is deactivating users with ties to Iran in accordance with U.S. economic sanctions against the country.

The Verge first reported that Slack this week deactivated the accounts of users in the U.S., as well as Finland and Canada, who it alleged were tied to Iran. The company sent messages to the users saying their accounts were removed because it had "identified your team/account as originating from" sanctioned countries. 

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Multiple people posted screenshots of the email on Twitter. One woman wrote that her account had been deleted because she "visited family in Iran and used Slack when there." 

"I'm a PhD student in Canada with no teammates from Iran," a University of British Columbia student wrote. "Slack closed my account today!"

 

A Slack spokesperson in a statement to The Hill said it complies with all U.S. regulations that prohibit Slack's use in "embargoed countries and regions, as does every U.S.-based company."

Those countries include Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Syria, Slack said in an earlier statement to The Verge.

"We only utilize IP addresses to take these actions," the statement said, adding, "We do not possess information about nationality or the ethnicity of our users."

The deactivations occurred when Slack updated its geolocation services, which rely on IP addresses, the Slack spokesperson said.

Mahsa Alimardani, a doctoral student at the Oxford Internet Institute, told Motherboard that as long as users are not sending money between Iran and the U.S., there is "no reason" to deactivate their accounts. 

“If they looked into the account, saw where they are employed [and] where their bank accounts are and realize there is no flow of money between Iran and U.S. ... because of this login, they surely would have no reason to do this,” Alimardani told Motherboard.  

 

Slack did not say what prompted the last round of deactivations. 

Technology exports to Iran are illegal under U.S. Treasury rules, but sanctions since four years ago have included a license exception for personal communications tools, The Verge noted. 

“Detecting an Iranian IP address on a paid account (which is presumed to be for business) login as a violation of sanctions is a wrong interpretation of these regulations,” Alimardani told the outlet. “At best it’s over-regulation to prevent any sort of misunderstanding or possible future hassle.”

A Slack spokesperson told The Hill that Slack is distinct from other communications tools because it is "a tool for work and the actions we’ve taken are consistent with enterprise software practice."

"If users think we’ve made a mistake in blocking their access, please reach out ... and we’ll review as soon as possible," the Slack spokesperson said.

Updated at 2:40 p.m.