Yahoo Mail still scans emails to cozy up to advertisers

JC Torres - Aug 28, 2018, 10:00pm CDT
Yahoo Mail still scans emails to cozy up to advertisers

Yahoo is back from the dead and it’s as bad a boy as ever. Actually, it didn’t really die but just got swallowed up by new management: Oath. But now under Verizon’s ownership, the now irrelevant Internet giant has even more reason to lust after its customers’ data. And despite numerous hacking scandals and profitability problems, Yahoo just keeps on using the same futile tactics to make a buck. Like scanning users’ emails when no other email service in the US does.

Scanning emails is a rather thorny subject. In some twisted sense, Yahoo isn’t doing anything illegal (that we know) as long as it is complying with legal requirements to fully disclose (which may be arguable) what it is doing with the data it collects (which is a lot). But the US tech industry as a whole, have an unspoken agreement to keep their mitts of email, which is almost considered sacrosanct among all other forms of Internet activity. The only exceptions, according to the Wall Street Journal’s report, are Yahoo Mail and AOL mail, both owned by Verizon’s Oath.

What makes Yahoo Mail’s scanning activities worrying, aside from the fact that it is actually scanning emails for advertising purposes, is how it profiles users into groups. Not all advertisers are interested in all email users so Yahoo generously does the heavy lifting for them, categorizing users under “frequent traveler”, “self-employed”, and other potentially interesting market groups. It also scans receipts in emails to let advertisers know the products users buy or if their advertising campaign was successful enough.

All of these are promised to be anonymized, of course. Oath recently updated its terms of service to disclose what it does, but, as with any such contract, the document is thick with legalese and potential holes. You can’t, for example, file a class-action suit against it after you’ve agreed to its privacy policy. And while Yahoo Mail does have settings to turn off email scanning, The Verge illustrates how convoluted and hidden that process can be.

Unfortunately, those that still have Yahoo Mail accounts are actually hesitant to let go, for business and personal reasons. Despite how Yahoo has repeatedly proven itself incapable of protecting its customers from hackers or from its self. Amusingly, Oath veep of data, measurements, and insights claims that its own research proved that users want to get targeted ads. He also says that it’s “reasonable and ethical” to expect emails to be scanned in exchange for the free service. Except no one but Yahoo does that these days and even its own paying users get their email scanned. What they’re really paying for is not to see the ads that come from those.

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