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Yahoo is Still Selling Your Email Details to Advertisers

The scanning of private email for advertising purposes has been a contentious issue for some time

Published by Claire Broadley

Google stopped scanning Gmail accounts last year, bringing them in line with G Suite accounts which were never subject to its scanners.

But Yahoo is actively scanning email accounts even now in an attempt to make money from its ‘free’ email service. When it spots a commercial email in a user’s account, it records that information in a cookie that is used to display ads on other sites.

Why is Yahoo Still Scanning Personal Email?

Yahoo’s offering a potential treasure trove of data to advertisers: the data harvested from 200 million inboxes on its servers. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Oath (Yahoo’s parent company), now part of Verizon, has been pitching the data to potential buyers.

It may need the cash more than most.

Unlike Google, Yahoo has found it difficult to capitalise on emerging trends on the web. It doesn’t collect as much information from search for the simple reason that a massive majority of people use Google to search.

So with less data in the first place, the sliveres gathered from Yahoo emails will certainly help advertisers find their niche audience, as well as funding the considerable infrastructure needed to provide all of those free inboxes.

What’s the Big Deal About Ads?

The web is still a pretty confusing place when it comes to advertising. Many companies now recognise that users find intrusive ads detract from their experience when browsing websites.

Additionally, the tracking and personalisation that comes with advertising can be seen as an invasion of privacy -- or just downright creepy. Yahoo’s policies say that it won’t scan personal or health-related emails, but it can give your emails to human Yahoo employees to read.

 

At the same time, consumers are voting with their feet, switching to non-tracking services, blocking cookies, and using VPNs to avoid being tracked.

Facebook responded to the GDPR by slashing the amount of data available to advertisers. In turn, advertisers complained that it would make their advertising less effective.

That’s exactly the reverse of the situation that Yahoo is in. It wants to look at your email, figure out what you’re interested in, and then place you in categories that advertisers can target.

How to Ditch Yahoo Email Tracking

Oath’s vice president of data, Doug Sharp, said that scanning is a reasonable form of “value exchange”. In other words: you use Yahoo’s stuff without paying, and in return, Yahoo will rake through your inbox, potentially giving your emails (minus your name and email address) to human reviewers.

Bear in mind that Yahoo doesn’t have a great reputation for data security either. The 2013 hack, which only emerged three years later, affected one billion Yahoo users. A separate hack in 2014 exposed another 500 million.

If you’re a Yahoo email user and you’re unhappy with email scanning, you can pay $3.49 a month for an ad-free version, or turn off scanning and receive more generic ads. Of course, the obvious alternative is to move to a non-scanning email service from Gmail, Hotmail, or a lesser-known provider.