Yahoo 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.