Slack has apologized after it shut down the accounts of users who have visited Iran following a poorly executed effort at complying with U.S. sanctions against the country.
The company, which has eight million users of its productivity tool, has scrapped that first go at the policy. But it did confirm it will now block all activity in Iran and other sanctioned countries, although user accounts won’t be closed.
As one of the world’s largest community services, that botched first implementation will have impacted significant numbers of users — both in terms of enterprise teams and free accounts which use Slack for membership of interest groups and communities.
The victims affected included Amir Abdi, a machine learning scientist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who is also the recipient of the Vanier scholarship for PhD talent. Abdi told Motherboard that his account was shut down without prior warning, and the same appeared to apply to a number of other individuals who had visited Iran and used Slack from there.
Slack told us on Thursday, when we first reported the issue, that it had implemented the ban based on IP addresses. The general gist was that anyone who had logged on from Iran was blocked and the company admitted in a statement on Friday that it had made “a series of mistakes” by taking that approach.
“We recognize the disruption and inconvenience this caused and we sincerely apologize to the people affected by our actions,” the company said in a blog post.
Going forward, Slack said it will suspend user accounts while they are in Iran — and logged in from Iran-based IP address — but they once they return to a non-sanctioned market, full access will be restored. That policy will also apply to users who visit, or are based in, Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Ukraine’s Crimea region per OFAC sanctions.
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.
The issue is perhaps the most serious screw up to date from Slack, which is reportedly planning an IPO next year. The company admitted that its policy had been both poorly communicated and badly implemented and it pledged to learn from the experience.
“We’ll take the failures here as lessons we can use to improve our service and avoid similar mistakes in the future,” the company said.