Slap for Slack chat app after US, Canada chaps zapped in Iranian IP address map whack

Export ban compliance turns into geo-location gaffe fest

Flags of US and Iran

Following changes in the way it figures out where people are located, US-based Slack informed an undisclosed number of individuals this week that they're no longer welcome on the chat app, due to America's export controls and sanctions.

On Thursday, various Slack users took to Twitter to share account closure notices they had just received from Slack HQ. The emails cited US Commerce Department and US Treasury Department regulations, which prohibit providing services to individuals in countries under US sanctions, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimean region of Ukraine.

Essentially, folks are being kicked off Slack because they are believed to be in one of the banned nations, and Slack, being based in the US, is forbidden from providing stuff to people in those countries. So if you access Slack from an Iranian IP address, it's goodbye to your account.

In an email to The Register, a Slack spokesperson explained, "Slack complies with the US regulations related to embargoed countries and regions. We updated our system for applying geolocation information, which relies on IP addresses, and that led to the deactivations for accounts tied to embargoed countries."

But the ban appears to have affected individuals in the US, Canada, and other countries not spelled "Iran."

Amir Omidi, a software developer with ties to Iran but presently based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, criticized Slack via Twitter for banning his account despite his claim that he's not actually living in Iran nor working with Iranians.

Mahnaz Behroozi, doctoral student in machine learning at North Carolina State University, also reported her Slack account had been closed.

Amir Abdi, a doctoral student in machine learning in Canada, also said his Slack account had been closed.

A Belgian who said he traveled to Iran a few years ago also reported an account closure.

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Slack's spokesperson declined to say how many individuals received account closure notices, but insisted the company only used IP addresses to target account bans, without considering the nationality or ethnicity of users. The company says affected individuals can contact feedback@slack.com to request that the company review its decision in case a mistake has been made.

Omidi via Twitter observed, "IP based banning is stupid because there are a ton of Iranian Americans who travel back and forth and have Slack on their phone. They will inevitably register an Iranian IP somewhere in their account."

It's unclear whether Slack really needs to take action against users in Iran since US Department of Treasury rules adopted in 2014 explicitly allow paid chat services.

Via Twitter, Alex Stamos, former chief security officer of Facebook and currently a lecturer at Stanford University, observed that Slack's overzealous account bans are a consequence of saddling tech platforms with enforcement responsibilities in the absence of clear legal guidance.

He did, however, suggest a way that Slack might be able to convince the US government to allow the company's software in Iran. "...Slack’s Electron client is so CPU hungry they could argue to OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] that allowing it to be installed in Iran is a form of slow cyberwarfare against their power grid," he quipped. ®

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