Square: It’s A Kind Of Magic

June 11th, 2010 | researchmaterial

So I looked at this clever new thing called Square, that’ll let you accept and make card payments on your phone. It comes from a good place: the inspiration was an artist who couldn’t sell a piece of art because he couldn’t process card payments on the spot. I like their intent a great deal. And I was picking through the terms of service, to see if this was a US-only thing, because obviously I know a bunch of people who might find Square useful. (A simple mobile card processing solution would be a boon for creators working tables at conventions.) And I found this:

You represent and warrant to us that… (j) you are not engaged in and will not accept payment for any of the following: (1) any illegal activity,

Well yes sure if you insist.

(2) adult entertainment oriented products or services (all media types; internet, telephone, printed material, etc),

So I know a few people who now won’t be selling their panties using Square. Okay.

…(7) occult materials

Hold on. Can someone explain this to me? What defines an occult material? I had a quick Google. According to Fox News, a pink ouija board made by Hasbro is an "occult material." Informed Christians tells me that Harry Potter and Pokemon are occult materials. Are Tarot cards occult materials? Divining rods? Alan Moore books and CDs?

I’m presuming this is just some kind of weird boilerplate text they’ve picked up from somewhere, and that in America credit card processors don’t like you rubbing the spooky stuff. And someone will educate me on that in the comments. But "occult materials" would seem to me to be so ill-defined as to cover an awful lot of things. So, if you fancy the sound of Square, but perhaps sell things like books or garments or goat heads consecrated in Satan’s piss, you might want to drop them a line first to get their definition of "occult materials."


33 Responses to “Square: It’s A Kind Of Magic”

  1. You take visa? Sounds like a poor but polite excuse to not shop.

    No shady exorcist-dildos? Hard to use their service. No occult materials would make a nice tat for a brave behind.

  2. I am an occult material.

  3. Well there goes my Kama Sutra Tarot deck business.

  4. If you can buy it with mundane cash, it’s not occult enough. Now, if you could buy and sell souls with your smartphone…

  5. I hope it’s boilerplate like you say, but my guess would be the company is owned by batshit evangelicals who are honestly worried about that kind of shit.

    “Occult” is also a medical term, but I doubt anybody’s going to be selling any occult tumors using Square.

  6. I’m also intrigued by “adult entertainment oriented products or services,” which is an impressive display of gymnastics to avoid actually saying anything useful. I know a lot of people who would consider that to cover things like, say, Lost Girls.

    All in all it sounds like a service made to specifically not sell Alan Moore material.

  7. Yeah, I second Brandon. My “Crazy Batshit-o-meter” goes off whenever I hear “occult” bandied around in the States. Given that their main production plant seems to be in San Francisco, I’d bet there’s some tie-in to the Mormon faith. I could be totally wrong there, but after Prop 8 passed in the most “liberal” state in the country, I don’t trust anything outta Cali. And I was freakin’ born in San Francisco.

  8. I’m on their frequently asked questions site and I don’t see any reference to ‘occult materials’ and they get a lot more specific about the ‘adult-oriented’ stuff:

    “Adult services: Square does not serve merchants offering “Adult” oriented services, including but not limited to any business selling age or legally restricted products or services, audio/video text services, Adult book stores or video stores, Adult telephone conversation services, Adult websites and content, companion or escort services, dating services, “mail order” bride services, massage parlors, topless bars or any Adult entertainment service”

    Seems like ‘Lost Girls’ would be okay, as long as the lost girls in question aren’t mail-order brides.

  9. So much for selling Bibles bound in genuine Indian skin.

  10. “Now, if you could buy and sell souls with your smartphone…”

    …Steve Jobs would sue you for patent violation.

  11. I’m guessing boilerplate. The CEO is Jack Dorsey, same guy from FourSquare and Twitter…
    and all I can find exhaustively searching the web for tens of minutes is that he went to a Catholic high school…
    No witch burning, John Hagee tattoo’s or a secret holy water addcition that I could find.

  12. Actually I think this a requirement forced on them by the Credit Card companies. At one point Google Checkout had a similar restriction: http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2006/06/what-you-cant-buy-with-google-checkout.html.

  13. @Chris B: The “occult materials” proviso is in the Terms of Service. https://squareup.com/tos

    @AnonymousHoward: That page does not exist, or at least that’s what it says when I click on your link.

    @Warren Ellis: I can’t seem to find any way to contact them without first signing up for the app. That seems a little counterproductive to me, but I guess modern companies don’t like to talk to the public much. Since I can’t find a way to contact them, I can’t ask them the important question, “What, exactly, constitutes an ‘occult material’? Would the artworks made by my magician friends using occult techniques count?”

  14. I would say it’s to prevent all those psychic hotline / tarot reading / fortune-telling -type services which no doubt have huge numbers of unsatisfied customers seeking refunds and generally being a massive headache for credit card processors/issuers.

  15. The dictionary definition of occult is:
    Hidden from the eye or the understanding; invisible; secret; concealed; unknown.
    They’re worried about ‘hidden materials,’ whatever that means.

  16. You just need to scrape the period off the end:

    http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2006/06/what-you-cant-buy-with-google-checkout.html

  17. faoladh, you want to remove the trailing . that this website likes to think of being part of the link. Without dot:

    http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2006/06/what-you-cant-buy-with-google-checkout.html

  18. If you accept VISA you accept VISA’s rules, which tend towards the restrictive and censorious. Would you believe they think cartoon tentacle porn is bestiality?

    Crazy.

  19. @faloadh Regarding contacting them, they’re an SV startup–find their twitter account and ping them.

    I think this is largely in response to some San Francisco and CA regulations regarding scams with fortune telling; odd, I know, but some companies have been held liable for such things.

    Also, y’all have made Hacker News (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1422244)

  20. The rule against occult materials is probably not enforceable, because it counts as religious discrimination.

  21. This is almost how it always comes about with these restrictions…
    It is not that square wants to restrict these materials…
    It is that their payment processor agreement specifies that they can’t accept payment for a list of things including occult.
    Of course, not even the payment processor will have a good definition of occult either, they are probably restricting that because someone else told them to (visa?).
    Square likely won’t care if you do sell occult material… unless their payment processor finds out, which they probably won’t. Just don’t make it obvious in your merchant name.

  22. So you can’t pay for a hand of glory or the rendered fat of an unbaptised child, but what about candles and pin?

  23. […] Warren Ellis » Square: It’s A Kind Of Magic So I looked at this clever new thing called Square, that’ll let you accept and make card payments on your phone. It comes from a good place: the inspiration was an artist who couldn’t sell a piece of art because he couldn’t process card payments on the spot. I like their intent a great deal. And I was picking through the terms of service, to see if this was a US-only thing, because obviously I know a bunch of people who might find Square useful. (A simple mobile card processing solution would be a boon for creators working tables at conventions.) (tags: creditcard payments legalese) […]

  24. It must be a magic device it’sself, and thus competing occult forces will slowly drain the Square’s card reader of it’s majikal properties [I imagine all that is inside is copper dust, rabbit teeth, and dried blood of a Voodoo priestess] That or it’s powered by ghosts. The ghosts of dead accountants.

    But I’m gonna assume it’s for those Psychic Friend-type businesses, and if I, hypothetically, sell a spooky ghost comic, the hammer won’t fall on my head.
    Because damn one of those would be nice at a con.

  25. […] store. Micropayments have been progressing in the last few years – there are a few promising options available. I don’t know how effective they can or will be, but I think it’s important […]

  26. Could be basically anything they don’t understand? The Occult Sciences, History and Magic tend to scare the regular christian folk etc (or anyone of any pervasive dogma), because the overtly odd and unusual disrupts the sanctity of self-delusion. Just a thought. Sounds like a noble and honorable idea for Art sales and that but credit companies and those who deal with this fascinating and imaginary thing called money often reek of the occult themselves somewhere in the higher tiers. Adepts, Masons, Strange Homosexual brotherhoods…presidents…prime ministers…Rothschild, Clegg-nut & Cameron on fancy boat rides…

    (Woah, this blokes crazy, he’s talking about a conspiracy! Must be nuts)

  27. goog checkout and Ben: Thank you. I didn’t notice that.

    j.c.sackett: Twitter seems awfully inefficient to me for this sort of thing, but what the hell? If I get a response, I’ll post it here. My question: “What exactly constitutes an ‘occult material’ for purposes of your prohibited items?”

  28. As someone who attended fundamentalist (a.k.a. “batshit crazy”) churches for many years, I can tell you that their definition of the occult is pretty inclusive. “Occult” actually means “hidden knowledge” which if interpreted literally, could bring its own set of issues (for example, under the proper definition, a book about who killed JFK could be considered “occult”, if it included any knowledge not previously known about the subject).

    But in the church, “occult” seems to have many meanings. Christians love to expand definitions and confuse meanings (just as the English word “hell” is used to translate three or more totally different words in the original languages, all of which mean entirely different things).

    Several examples:

    If it’s historical writings that do not totally agree with the King James Version of the Bible, it’s probably occult, especially if it relates a tale of any “supernatural” activity (and in some fundamentalist churches, any version of the Bible other than the King James Version is considered occult!).

    If it’s any form of popular entertainment that has even the shallowest reference to supernatural activity it’s occult (especially if it induces people to spend money that they might otherwise put in the collection plate). Most science fiction is probably occult, in their minds (“Star Wars” was terribly occult in their view).

    If it’s any form of activity that came out of a non-Christian culture and people might actually spend money on classes, it’s occult. Yoga and Karate are occult, unless of course they are taught in the church by a “Christian” instructor and the church gets a cut of the class fees.

    If it’s anything that might tell the future it’s occult, unless of course it’s a rehash of the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation from the Bible and it’s published by a “Christian” publisher (again – keep the money in the “Christian” community).

    If it’s any kind of book, tape, DVD, etc. that might give people insight into themselves and it’s not sold in the church bookstore, its occult.

    Anything to do with sex or sexuality, other than that which promotes two Christian people in a monogamous marriage, without the use of birth control (gotta make more churchgoers!) is occult. Straight porn might get a wink and a nod pass (which is to say, they might just not talk about it at all), depending on whether or not the pastor and/or the deacons find it, um, enlightening.

    Anything they don’t understand runs the risk of being labeled occult. When people first started using the Internet, that was the most occult thing ever until the churches figured out that they could use it too (they are always several years behind in technology and entertainment). They were convinced that “The Beast” of the book of Revelation was some giant supercomputer in Europe.

    The fundies don’t always use the word occult, sometimes they say it’s “of the devil” which means the same thing, since in their mind the devil is behind everything they don’t have control over, including the occult (and of course, it’s totally impossible in their minds that the devil might actually be pulling their strings, despite the fact that Jesus never had one good word to say about organized religion).

    So anyway, my thinking is that if this sort of clause exists, it could be interpreted narrowly or VERY widely, depending on who is doing the interpreting. And whoever is behind it is probably miffed that people are spending their money on “occult” items and not giving it to a church, or maybe spending it at the church of Apple. Either way, it’s a form of censorship!

  29. […] occult materials? Writer and defender of all things subcultural Warren Ellis has some questions regarding these restrictions, like, just what is and isn’t “occult”, exactly? Hold on. Can someone explain […]

  30. (Spotted the following on the net!)

    “Three R’s” a Collector’s Item

    Journalist/historian Dave MacPherson’s controversial book “The Three R’s” names and discusses evangelical leaders who have not only heavily plagiarized others but have even been caught quietly using the forbidden world of the occult in order to defend the pretrib rapture view!
    MacPherson, the world’s authority on the 180-year-old history of the same view which has made millionaires of leading Religious Rightists including Lindsey and LaHaye, has authored the nonfiction bestseller “The Rapture Plot” and many web articles including “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty.”
    The plagiarists include J. A. Seiss, E. W. Bullinger, Hal Lindsey, C. C. Carlson, David Jeremiah, Chuck Missler, and even Dallas Seminary professor Merrill Unger!
    “The Three R’s” (packed with many more discoveries than just the plagiarism and occultism) has been out of print for several years and is now a very rare and pricey item. Check out online bookstores and you will find these typical prices for a USED copy of it: Alibris ($33.94), Amazon ($33.94), Amazon UK ($73.08), and Archives Books ($36.93). They also charge several dollars for shipping.
    As the only publisher of this 149-page exposure, we’re glad to announce that we’ve located three small boxes of it. For a $30.00 donation we’ll mail you one free copy – or a limit of two free copies for a $50.00 donation. We’re a nonprofit corporation and our IRS E.I. number is 74-2420939.
    All donors will receive NEW, POSTAGE-PAID, SIGNED (by Dave MacPherson) copies of “The Three R’s” along with a valid tax-deductible receipt. Send checks in US funds to:
    P.O.S.T. Inc., PO Box 333, Beloit, Kansas 67420 USA.

  31. I can understand the first few, as all of them put your company in a specific tax bracket and then blame could fall upon Square should it hit problems in legal status or other issues, but I fail to see how anything ‘occult’ could even be considered a part of a company’s TOS. This is irrational.

    “We’re going to fine you $5,000 because you sold something ‘occult’ related with the Square program on your phone…” …Right. I doubt heavily that it could actually come up in a real court case.

    I agree thus far, that someone was just throwing their two cents into something before this program went public as an attempt to restrict other people’s personal rights because they likely didn’t believe it was ‘Good’.

  32. […] Square, it’s a kind of magic Warren Ellis 11/06/10 So I looked at this clever new thing called Square, that’ll let you accept and make card payments on your phone. It comes from a good place: the inspiration was an artist who couldn’t sell a piece of art because he couldn’t process card payments on the spot. I like their intent a great deal. And I was picking through the terms of service, to see if this was a US-only thing, because obviously I know a bunch of people who might find Square useful. (A simple mobile card processing solution would be a boon for creators working tables at conventions.) And I found this: […]

  33. As a current update, this is the relevant portion of the response I have so far received from Square regarding what they mean by the term “occult materials” in their Terms of Service:

    “This is a fairly grey area even in the banking and payment card industry. It is not clearly defined what occult materials is really meant even by these regulations. We are contacting our advisors and trying to find as much information as we can. I will hopefully be in touch with you soon with more information.”

    I am assuming at the moment that this means that the term is part of a standard boilerplate (rather than, say, government regulation), and have asked for clarification on that point. If so, it would be interesting to learn from what source that particular phrase became a part of the standard boilerplate terms.