7 tips to deal with Yahoo’s TOS update that lets them snoop in your emails and chats


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Yahoo new email scansYahoo is forcing its email users to switch to a new version of Yahoo Mail, and although it’s certainly easier on the eyes, the biggest change is less obvious: the new policy lets Yahoo scan your emails and IMs to target you with ads and see if you’re violating any policies or laws. Read on for 7 tips to deal with this change.

As of today (June 3, 2013), Yahoo Mail users will have to switch to the new version, which launched back in December. That means accepting the revised Terms of Service (TOS) and and Privacy Policy, which means agreeing to let “Yahoo!’s automated systems scan and analyze all incoming and outgoing communications content sent and received from your account.”

Yahoo has automated systems that look at the words you type, the files you attach, the people you contact, your location, and more. These systems guess at who you are and what interests you, and then change the ads you see on Yahoo to whatever they think you’ll respond to. Google has been doing this with Gmail for a long time. 

Yahoo Genome targeted advertising

There’s another privacy issue, too: Yahoo doesn’t just scan the email of Yahoo Mail users, but also the email of anyone who corresponds with them. That’s right: even if you don’t use Yahoo Mail but you email someone who does, Yahoo can scan your communications. The new TOS puts the burden on Yahoo users to tell the people they’re communicating with about this scanning: “If you consent to this ATOS and communicate with non-Yahoo! users using the Services, you are responsible for notifying those users about this feature.”

It’s not only a computerized system looking through your email; occasionally it’ll be a real person. Why? Because Yahoo is combing through your emails not only to figure out what you’re talking about to target you with ads, but for “abuse protection.” Although “abuse” is vague, it could mean violations of Yahoo’s Terms (like sending spam or links to copyrighted content) or unlawful behavior. If Yahoo’s system is anything like the others that currently exist (like on Facebook), once the system flags something as abusive, it could escalate to a real person.

Image: advertising.yahoo.com

Image: advertising.yahoo.com

Facebook has already done this for years: Facebook scans posts, photos, and messages and actively turns its members over to law enforcement for things they think might be illegal, which has led to ridiculous arrests like the 18 year-old who’s facing 20 years in prison for terrorism charges for posting rap lyrics on Facebook that someone flagged as threats. There are hundreds of Facebook employees who act as arbiters, determining which posts should be removed or referred to police.

Image: advertising.yahoo.com

Image: advertising.yahoo.com

Keep in mind that Yahoo’s privacy issues don’t end with email scanning. Yahoo has a vast network of data selling partners and affiliates. When you use Yahoo services, you aren’t just sharing with Yahoo: you’re sharing with hundreds of third-party companies you’ve never heard of. And some of these partners are pretty sensitive. For example, Yahoo’s Privacy Policy notes that “Yahoo! advertisers include financial service providers (such as banks, insurance agents, stock brokers and mortgage lenders) and non-financial companies (such as stores, airlines, and software companies).”

If you’re a Yahoo Mail user and you’re worried about this recent reduction in email privacy, there are a few things you can do about it:

1. Don’t use Yahoo for email.

It’s as simple as that. Any “free” service that has access to tons of your personal info, like your emails, is probably mining it for advertising. Here’s how to delete your Yahoo mail account.

2. Download your Yahoo email to an IMAP client.

If you want to keep your Yahoo email address and still have access to your old emails, consider using an IMAP client like Mozilla’s Thunderbird or the built-in mail client on your computer (Mail for Mac and Outlook for PC). You can store email on your own device and access it offline, preventing Yahoo from scanning it.

3. Opt out of contextual ads through Yahoo’s Ad Manager (but understand that Yahoo still collects your data).

To stop seeing those annoying personalized ads in Yahoo, go to Yahoo’s Ad Interest Manager and opt out of interest-based ads. Look for the yellow button on the page that says “Opt Out.” If you’re curious, scroll down to see which interests Yahoo thinks you have based on your previous online activity. Keep in mind that opting out only stops Yahoo from showing you personalized ads: you’ll still see ads, and Yahoo will still collect and sell your information.

4. Anonymize your IP address.

One of the pieces of personal info that Yahoo logs is your IP address, a unique number that corresponds to the device you’re using and that divulges your geographic location down to your zip code. By using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or a proxy, you can anonymize your IP address, making it harder to tie your online activity back to you.

Tor is a well-known free proxy, but paid options like FoxyProxy are also available. Many VPNs are free and easy to use, like Hot Spot Shield or Private Wifi.

5. Use tracker-blocking software.

Yahoo and its huge number of advertising and tracking partners use trackers, like cookies and web beacons. Tracker-blocking software, like DNTMe, blocks many of Yahoo’s trackers (and hundreds of others, too). It works as a browser add-on for Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari.

6. Go for a more private email service.

You may have to pay a few dollars a month to a private email service that encrypts and securely stores your data. Some examples are UnspyableCountermailSilent Circle, Shazzle, or Lavabit.

7. Delete public record info about yourself to stop Yahoo from getting it.

Yahoo buys public record data about people from third-party data brokers to fill in the personal details it can’t get just from tracking people’s browsing. These companies include Acxiom, Experian, and Campaign Grid (which specifically deals in political information). You can visit these companies’ privacy policies individually to stop them from selling your information, not just to Yahoo, but to the thousands of other buyers they have.

For more tips on better email privacy in general, not just on Yahoo, check out our blog post.

15 Replies to “7 tips to deal with Yahoo’s TOS update that lets them snoop in your emails and chats”

  1. De Willia says:

    Thanks, thanks again. One of the best articles I have read. Its quite hard to glean this information by simply browsing so this was an especially nice read. So many opportunities for Abine to provide services to those of us who detest the notion of “Big Brother” snooping.
    Thanks: Keep up the good work!

    • Charli says:

      Yahoo has extended it’s “personalization” ad model to the Yahoo groups with the implantation of NEO which is in my opinion one of the worst “upgrades” I have ever seen in my 40 years of dealing with computers. The code is buggy at best and many groups have lost info they have collected since the inception of yahoo groups back in 1998. Disabled members are the hardest hit as many of their devices do not work with NEO and they have lost the support line that allows them to have added quality of life.(I am one of those disabled members)

      Message boards and help boards are swamped with complaints and Yahoo has lost a huge number of groups. This is 2010 all over again except worse. Groups moderators and members have launched a coordinated campaign to try and get Yahoo to listen to the complaints. The group was created and stood together in 2010 & halted the remodel of Yahoo Groups that caused numerous problems. And now we’re here again in 2013, again providing the place to come together to unite & make our voices heard about the failed NEO upgrade.


      I’ve posted a link to the group for any Yahoo member who is upset with the NEO upgrades and are having problems. If you’re disabled and having problems please contact us. Anyone wanting to join is welcome.

  2. Reg Richard says:

    GOOD ONE. LOVE IT..Reg Richard

  3. Walter Sesay says:

    Vital information worth adhere to as a precaution in regard to the above mentioned. Human beings are not for sale neither sensitive details about anyone has to be sold out for profit nor gain on a commercial basis, and by so doing constitute breached of trust. If it`s use for security reason in preventive measure to deter any act of terrorism activities and all forms of illegal activities on the net, that`s a right step in the right direction for public safety as we all do aware. But as stated, it is totally unconstitutional based on the Universal Declaration of Human-Rights for Internet Services providers to use the confidential details of anyone for profit and gain without the consent of any individual, because it`s breach of trust. Also, some individual within themselves may try to take advantage in scamming innocent individual. I put it under consideration as it take very serious as my security is first priority not to be scam, fishing and endanger my security. But it is perfect to get caught of criminals. Thanks once again!

  4. Gaia Smith says:

    Step #1 is the way to go.

    In Step #2, you neglected to mention that in order to use IMAP, after a “15 day Free Trial”, one must pay $9.95 for the privilege of your privacy, and mail is still stored on their servers.. The ONLY other (Yahoo) alternative is the $19.95/YEAR for POP mail. At least with that, once it’s retrieved from their servers, it’s YOURS (so they say).


  5. gparyani says:

    Heh heh. That’s why you use Outlook.com. That doesn’t display targeted ads.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Bad Hackers steal everything and don’t care
    if its Your credit card number or your spam.
    Why should I get anything about myself to yahoo
    or any buddy on the internet?
    Good idea,
    Sign up for Facebook your cool & sexy let me see all your sexy photos
    & where you going to be located at tonight
    so I come visit you.

  7. Nat says:

    Thanks for this informative article. I didn’t know much about this until now (regarding yahoo).

  8. JJ says:

    From loving Yahoo Email to hating it with no return. Nothing works and it crashes every browsers. Not worth anybody’s time. Now I only use my 6 Yahoo email accounts for spam and I have moved to Gmail, which I’m loving. Yahoo’s “make over” is motivated by greed, to please their advertising and they are showing no regards nor respect for their customers. You just CANNOT shove down your users; throat any junk you want and expect they’re just gonna to take it!!!

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  10. Caroline Tyler says:

    A brilliant and informative article. I am incensed that Yahoo have so little regard for their customers and I will find another provider.

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