Ottawa Citizen

Shopify outlines ‘acceptable use’ for its platform

Ottawa-based firm criticized for hosting the online sales of controvers­ial figures


In what appears to be an aboutface, Shopify has updated its terms of service agreement to include an “Acceptable Use Policy” which governs the types of goods and services that shops can sell on Shopify-hosted stores.

The move comes after massive public backlash over news that the company was hosting online stores for Brietbart news, Milo Yiannopoul­os, and other controvers­ial figures.

The new acceptable use policy was added to the company’s website on April 3.

A petition with more than 200,000 signatures from people complainin­g about Shopify’s involvemen­t with the controvers­ial vendors was delivered to the company’s head offices on March 2.

“We’ve updated our Terms of Service (ToS) to include an Acceptable Use Policy to provide further clarificat­ion on the activities that are prohibited on the Shopify platform,” said Sheryl So, a spokeswoma­n for Shopify, in an emailed statement when asked about the company’s new policy.

The policy appears to take a step back from the company’s former comments which suggested Shopify didn’t want to get involved in an attempt to define morally appropriat­e goods and services that can be sold by vendors on its platform.

“People sell millions of products a day. Almost all of those are uncontrove­rsial. We love the electric skateboard­s, the animal-friendly outerwear, and the pottery. But some are unsavory (sic) and controvers­ial, and that’s where we’re put to the test,” said Shopify’s chief executive officer Tobi Lutke in an open letter posted on the website Medium in February titled In Support of Free Speech.

“To kick off a merchant is to censor ideas and interfere with the free exchange of products at the core of commerce. When we kick off a merchant, we’re asserting our own moral code as the superior one. But who gets to define that moral code? Where would it begin and end? Who gets to decide what can be sold and what can’t? If we start blocking out voices, we would fall short of our goals as a company to make commerce better for everyone. Instead, we would have a biased and diminished platform.

“Products are a form of speech, and free speech must be fiercely protected, even if we disagree with some of the voices.”

The acceptable use policy spells out specific guidelines banning “hateful content” as well as “harassment, bullying, defamation and threats.”

From the new policy: “You may not offer goods or services, or post or upload Materials, that condone or promote violence against people based on race, ethnicity, color (sic), national origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientatio­n, disability, medical condition or veteran status. You may not offer goods or services, or post or upload materials, that harass, bully, defame or threaten a specific individual.”

However, critics of the company are already arguing that the policy doesn’t do enough. The interest group SumOfUs, which compiled and delivered the 200,000 signature petition, pointed to websites such as Brietbart and Swag By Milo as examples of stores that appear to be in breach of the acceptable use policy. Swag By Milo is owned by Yiannopoul­os and features T-shirts stating “White Privilege” and “Feminism is Cancer.”

As of Friday, the online stores for those websites still appeared to be powered by Shopify. It’s unclear if Shopify has ended business relationsh­ips with any existing clients based on the new policy. Shopify did not comment when asked if the company was still affiliated with Yiannopoul­os or Brietbart.

“While implementi­ng a hate speech policy is a good first step, Shopify’s effort is pretty halfbaked, given the fact there are still products sold in Shopify stores that promote harassment,” said Emma Pullman, lead campaigner from SumOfUs. “The company needs to put its money where its mouth is to prove their policy is more than just lip service, because it’s not adequate enough as of now.”

Products are a form of speech, and free speech must be fiercely protected, even if we disagree with some of the voices.

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