Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Yahoo’s Sleazy 360°Turn?

All my posts these days seem to be rants. Phishing toolbars that don’t work. PR people peddling the same old tired story line. Sorry about that. I’m not really an angry person. But anyway, here’s another: Yahoo!, I fear, is playing fast and loose again with my privacy and the truth.

As have other folk recently, I received this morning an email from Yahoo! 360 Alerts saying

Jeremy W,
Your Yahoo! Messenger contact wants to add you as a Friend in Yahoo! 360°. As Yahoo! 360° friends, you and can stay in touch through blogs, photos and much more.
On Yahoo! 360°, you always control who sees your content. If you do not accept the invitation, nothing happens, and can only see your public content.
Accept or decline the invitation by going to:
http://360.yahoo.com/friends/waiting_room.html

Click on the link and you find a list of your Yahoo! messenger buddies who are using the Yahoo! 360° service (a sort of community thang.) You’re encouraged to add the person as a friend (although to its credit Yahoo! has the default option as ‘decide later.’ Click ‘submit’ and you’re taken to another page of content from some of your buddies who are using the service. There is no ‘Messenger contact’. There is no ‘invitation’. (Unless you think Yahoo is your buddy. My argument is that it ain’t.)  

Needless to say, it’s all a ruse to draw you further into the Yahoo! realm. Nothing wrong with that, except that

  • the original email is misleading. It makes it sound as if some specific person has invited you to join a specific service. The etiquette in such cases is to accept, or at least to see what the invitation is all about. So it’s deliberately misleading in that it’s leveraging a social aspect of the Internet to suck users further into a service. It’s not too much to call this spam.
  • I received this email because I supposedly subscribed to Yahoo! alerts. I can find no evidence for this despite an hour’s digging around the Yahoo universe.

Actually, this is just a thin end of a large wedge. Yahoo!, I fear, and others are moving back into the personal information harvesting business.

Here’s the sorry tale of what seems to be  happening: The email tells me I got the email because “You received this email because you subscribed to Yahoo! Alerts”, something I wasn’t aware of. I’m able to click on a link which allows me to ‘unsubscribe’ from this alert but that doesn’t tell me how I ended up on this alerts list and whether I’m going to get any more. The ‘alerts’ homepage doesn’t look familiar and it’s a tad suspicious that the alert was the only I ever signed up for. This all sounds very spammy to me: the illusion of being able to unsubscribe from something you never subscribed to, with no guarantee you won’t be subscribed to something else whenever the spammer, sorry, Yahoo, feels like it. 

So I tried to take a more structural approach, accepting the offer in the email

To change your communications preferences for other Yahoo! business lines, please visit your Marketing Preferences.

This link to Marketing Preferences in the email — and on pages such as the privacy page and the Marketing help page — isn’t a link to that page at all but a link to a page that, as it puts it:

Please visit your Yahoo! Account Information pages to view or edit your marketing communication preference.

(It may not mean anything, but the Web Archive, which archives much of the Internet, has no record of the Marketing Preferences page in question, http://subscribe.yahoo.com/showaccount, since April 28 2006. Could it be that Yahoo changed its policy then, and has not updated its own internal links since? )

If I click on the Account Information link I’m taken to a page of personal details where I’m asked to enter my postcode. In fact, if I enter no postcode I cannot go any further unless I choose an obscure country which Yahoo doesn’t know or care about:

Needless to say, the account information page is no help, and is in fact an effort to prise further data from you.

Once you’ve been forced to hoodwink Yahoo! into thinking you live in Zimbabwe, you’re taken to another account information page, nowhere in which is there any link to Marketing Preferences or anything else that sounds like it could let you opt out of the spurious 360 degree thang. By then I’m beginning to perspire from frustration.

Click on ‘Finished’ and, while half wishing it meant either you or the whole Yahoo! website was sucked into a black hole, you’re taken to your personalized homepage, which once again has no mention of marketing preferences. ( Digging around for help is no help, since there are only a bunch of questions there and no option to search for more.) Realizing children were born in less time than it was taking me to opt out of more Yahoo! alerts I gave up; I never could find the marketing preferences page.

In the end I find all this a bit misleading and unworthy of an institution like Yahoo!. Of course, this is nothing new: Back in 2002 users fumed over unilateral changes to Yahoo!’s marketing preferences page which reset the default for all users to opt in for spam. Seems like Yahoo might be again playing fast and loose in a bid to bolster sagging consumer interest.

The bottom line: Is what they’re doing in accordance with their privacy policy? I fear not. In their privacy page they say:

We reserve the right to send you certain communications relating to the Yahoo! service, such as service announcements, administrative messages and the Yahoo! Newsletter, that are considered part of your Yahoo! account, without offering you the opportunity to opt-out of receiving them.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think any of these cover getting spurious invitations from Yahoo! messenger buddies. I’m going to ask Yahoo to comment once the Thanksgiving turkey is done. Yahoo has some great services, but misleading me into signing up for another one is not the way to my heart.

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Those Darn Thanksgiving Eve Pitches

 Jeff Jarvis has an amusing tirade against the lame Thanksgiving eve stories of TV (“The lead story is that the roads and airports will be crowded this morning. Now that’s news!”) to which I’d add: how about the lame PR pitches this time of year about the dangers of shopping online? I’ve had half a dozen this year and I don’t even pretend to live in the U.S. Here’s a sampling (all follow with pitch to talk to client, needless to say):

  • As Black Friday and Cyber Monday near and the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, consumers still appear to have the jitters when shopping online through unfamiliar, lesser-known merchants. (Pitching online security software)
  • With approximately $56.6 billion stolen so far in 2006 as a result of personal ID theft, all shoppers should be aware of ways to make their online experience more secure. (pitching a fingerprint reader)
  • With recent research suggesting that 60% of consumers terminated or considered terminating a relationship due to mishandling of their private information and new laws in place that levy stiff fines against organizations that have consumer data slip through their networks, it is more important than ever for retailers and payment processors to secure and safeguard consumer data. (Pitching data privacy service)
  • As Black Friday approaches, identity theft is not the only concern keeping shoppers offline this holiday season – trustworthiness of the retailer, non-delivery, quality of merchandise, and shipping costs are all concerns, especially when buying from smaller, independent online retailers (pitching online security software; actually same product as the first one, different pitcher and angle)
  • The 2006 holiday shopping season kicks off today. This is also the high season for pick-pockets, department store thieves and Internet marauders. (pitching something or other, I’ve forgotten.)

Yadayadayada. It goes on. Not an interesting or original line among them. Admittedly, I’m not desperate for story ideas, but these are a) so lacking in imagination and b) so steeped in the assumption that us journalists write the same kind of story as each other, year in, year out, I want to weep.

So if you find yourself reading tired stories about the ‘dangers of shopping online’ stories in your mainstream media diet, you’ll know where the idea for them came from. I better start working on mine to be ahead of the rush.