- On Wednesday, many users who had traveled to Iran found that their Slack accounts shut down because of U.S. sanctions, even though they did not live in Iran, nor did they have professional links to Iran.
- On Friday, Slack sent out an apology to its users and clarified that it did not have information about users' ethnicities, but used location information.
- Slack is working on restoring mistakenly blocked accounts and will soon start blocking accounts with IP addresses in an embargoed country.
$7 billion workplace chat app Slack apologized on Friday for mistakenly shutting down the accounts of several users this week in its efforts to comply with US sanctions towards countries like Iran.
Slack said that it uses location information such as IP addresses to block users from countries affected by US trade embargoes and economic sanctions, and that in doing so it "inadvertently de-activated" the accounts of certain users. The company did not specify how the mistake was made, but stressed that it did not block any users based on nationality or ethnicity.
Earlier this week, several ethnically Iranian users tweeted their concerns that their accounts were abruptly shut down even though they didn't live in Iran or have any professional ties to the country. One PhD student in British Columbia wondered on Twitter what Slack's basis was for determining his ethnicity.
"We do not collect, use, or possess any information about the nationality or ethnicity of our users," Slack said on Friday.
Several of the affected users had said they recently travelled to Iran, which may have caused Slack to flag their IP addresses.
Slack said it's working on restoring mistakenly blocked accounts, and apologized for not handling the communication well. The company also noted that it will soon begin blocking accounts with IP addresses associated with an embargoed country and said that users traveling to a sanctioned country may temporarily not be able to access their account.
Below is Slack's full apology:
Two days ago, we updated our system for applying location information to comply with U.S. trade embargoes and economic sanctions regulations.
Soon after updating, we discovered that we made a series of mistakes and inadvertently deactivated a number of accounts that we shouldn’t have. We recognize the disruption and inconvenience this caused and we sincerely apologize to the people affected by our actions. In fact, we also apologize to the people whose accounts we intended to disable in order to comply with these regulations. We did not handle the communication well and in both cases we failed to live up to our own standards for courtesy and customer-centricity.
We did not block any user based on their nationality or ethnicity. As is standard in the enterprise software industry, Slack uses location information principally derived from IP addresses to implement these required blocks. We do not collect, use, or possess any information about the nationality or ethnicity of our users.
We have restored access to most of the mistakenly blocked accounts, and we are working hard to restore any remaining users whose access was blocked in error. If you think we’ve made a mistake in blocking your access, please reach out to email@example.com and we’ll review as soon as possible.
We would also like to notify our users that as we continue to update our systems over the next several weeks, we will soon begin blocking access to our service from IP addresses associated with an embargoed country. Users who travel to a sanctioned country may not be able to access Slack while they remain in that country. However, we will not deactivate their account and they will be able to access Slack when they return to countries or regions for which no blocking is required.