Yahoo! Mail Sheds Beta Tag With Little Fanfare Over Revised Data Collection


ADOTAS – Circa midnight Eastern time, Yahoo cut the beta tag off its revamped mail system. It’s pretty snazzy — in addition to promised faster service and tightened spam and malware security, the new Yahoo! mail will allow users to answer Facebook messages and chat via the social network. Similar to Facebook’s slowly unfolding Messages communications hub, users will be able to create, respond to and archive instant and text messages. In addition, slideshows and YouTube videos can be viewed within the email client, and a YouSendIt tool for uploading larger files appears among the sending options.

But few people — in the media or elsewhere — seemed concerned or at least interested that with the overhauled system, Yahoo! is going to use interests garnered from scanning emails for not just typical in-client advertisements, but other “interests-based advertisements” on Yahoo!’s content network — yes, that means behaviorally targeted display ads.

And the reason could be that Yahoo! has been extremely transparent about the process.

Right on the sign-up page for a new account, there’s a disclaimer before the “Create My Account” button: “Yahoo! automatically identifies items such as words, links, people, and subjects from your Yahoo! communications services to deliver product features and relevant advertising.” That link leads you to a straightforward but heavily detailed explanation of Yahoo!’s data collection practices and the Ad Interests Manager.

There you can see how keywords collected from emails are added to a list of interests amassed from search and browsing data, as well as interactions with ads. Yahoo! allows users to opt out of Interest-Based Advertisements with a simple click, or manage these interests one by one on a seemingly endless list. Yahoo! also makes it clear that advertisers are not handed the profile data and “trusted partners” cannot share profile data.

Yahoo!’s intuitive approach should be commended — and the lack of privacy hysterics suggests that transparency is the key to assuaging Internet user concerns about behavioral advertising. However, it could be the media is just slow on the take — it did take the mainstream press a year to build up a furor over Apple collecting location data from mobile devices.

Or maybe it’s about size — there are somewhere around 270 million Yahoo! accounts (Gmail surprisingly trails with 150 million accounts), which is not even half of Facebook’s 600 million users. I can’t stop wondering whether the media and public would be going nuts if Facebook introduced a similar initiative — collecting keywords from scanned messages to use in targeting ads across the social network.


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