paypal_logo_09.jpgThe hacking collective, Anonymous, has started a new campaign aimed at two of the web's biggest brands, encouraging users to close their accounts and use alternative services.

Is Hacktivism the new Normal?

Rather than take direct action against the PayPal website, the Anonymous and LulzSec hacking groups, acting collectively under the name of AntiSec are imploring web users to abandon their PayPal accounts for alternative methods of web transaction. The full communique highlights PayPal's continued refusal to allow funds to be paid to Wikileaks and accuses the FBI of harassment of its members.

The salient appeal for PayPal users reads:

We encourage anyone using PayPal to immediately close their accounts and consider an alternative. The first step to being truly free is not putting one's trust into a company that freezes accounts when it feels like, or when it is pressured by the U.S. government. PayPal's willingness to fold to legislation should be proof enough that they don't deserve the customers they get. They do not deserve your business, and they do not deserve your respect.

UPDATE: Over the course of the day, PayPal's parent company eBay dropped by a dollar, losing almost $1 billion of its value on the stock market. AntiSec claimed some 20,000 users had closed their accounts, and  there still been no response from PayPal to users, beyond the cookie cutter: 

"PayPal works with law enforcement around the world to protect our customers and their accounts," the company said in a statement. "As we state in our privacy policy, PayPal works with law enforcement or government officials if we receive a subpoena or court order; if we need to do so to comply with law; or if we believe in good faith that illegal activity has occurred."

This again shows how far behind the web that PR and official social media channels are behind the curve when it comes to 'online events'. There is no strategy to cope, to get a rational response out to customers and once again big companies seem clueless how to handle such an event.

The Next Phase?

Phase one of what is known as Operation PayPal, which you can follow on Twitter under the hash tag, #oppaypal, is already producing lots of tweets from users claiming to have closed their PayPal accounts  (some are providing screen captures as evidence). AntiSec are aiming for 10,000 closed accounts.

What the account-closing users are switching too remains to be seen and PayPal's own Twitter feeds remain silent on the matter (as of early Wednesday AM). Some users are suggesting NoChex and BitCoin as alternatives.

Quite what AntiSec have in mind for phase two and beyond must be of some concern for PayPal executives and security teams, as in the past AntiSec have stolen data from websites and hacked into them with ease.

While even a modest reaction from PayPal users won't dent the company's bottom line, if PayPal decides to react by temporarily suspending account closures it could see a PR nightmare that will be amplified on the web and seen as another victory for AntiSec.