Purposeful exclusion also comes into play in ecommerce. Burrell discovered that trying to purchase a product on Amazon from Ghana triggered a set of “forced detours” that made purchasing impossible. Once Amazon detected her login from Ghana, the site immediately reset her password and began sending her phishing warnings. Paypal uses similar techniques – when she tried to sign up for a sewing class in Oakland (to make something out of the beautiful batik she was buying in Ghana), PayPal told her that they didn’t serve customers in Ghana or Nigeria, and started a set of security checks that led to phone verification to her US phone, which didn’t work in Ghana. These extended loops of checks are a huge frustration to the Ghanaians who have the means and tools to participate in these economies. As Ghanaian-born blogger Koranteng noted in an excellent blog post, “If we take ecommerce as one component of modern global citizenship then we are illegal aliens of sorts, and our participation is marginal at best.”
That’s Ethan Zuckerman summarizing a talk by Jenna Burrell on internet exclusion in West Africa.
You might think, why don’t Nigerians purchase cheap VPN services that make it look like they are in the US? In fact many of these services prohibit people in Nigeria from signing up. (I learned this while trying to accomplish the admittedly not that socially important task of watching the 30 Rock finale a few weeks ago.)