Yahoo, AOL Email Now Scanned for Targeted Advertising

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If you’ve been using Yahoo or AOL to avoid Google’s email scanning practices — or if you just plain use those services because you prefer them — there’s news from Oath, the parent company of both, that you’ll want to be aware of. A recent tweak to the company’s privacy policy gives it the right to scan all incoming and outgoing email, for the explicit purpose of delivering “content, advertising, and services.”

Oath also reserves the right to share data with its parent company, Verizon (we’ve discussed Verizon’s lack of privacy protection and user-hostile practices before) and notes that it also intends to analyze user interactions with financial institutions in order to provide “products and services of interest to our users.” And the company has extended its mutual arbitration clauses across the entire suite of Yahoo products, thereby ensuring that if you aren’t happy over something Oath does with your data, you won’t be suing them to stop it. While some of this scanning and analysis was already done, the company is expanding and extending various practices.

Oath confirmed the new policy to CNET, saying: “The launch of a unified Oath privacy policy and terms of service is a key stepping stone toward creating what’s next for our consumers while empowering them with transparency and controls over how and when their data is used.”

Now, I’ll give Oath a whisker of a nod on the transparency issue — you can argue that the company is explaining what it does and how it does it, and it’s not trying to bury the changes in a 15,000-word document designed to be read solely by lawyers and computers. But the idea of control? That’s quaint. And it’s part of what makes Oath’s response to the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals seem quite off-key: No meaningful amount of control is provided in these changes. The idea that a meaningful contract exists between you and the company is laughable, which is why these changes are always held within a document called something like “Terms of Service.” As in, the company dictates the terms and you accept them or you stop using the product. No contract that can be unilaterally amended and enforced by one of the two parties is worthy of the name.

Just once, I’d like to see a company have the guts to actually call these changes out and acknowledge what they are. Oath is making these changes because it wants to gather more information about you. It hopes it can turn that information into more profit by sharing it with Verizon, sharing it across its own services, and combining it with data from AOL. It wants to limit your ability to recover any kind of damages under any conceivable outcome, which is why AOL and Yahoo users will now be forced into arbitration. It lacks all concern for your privacy, because you have zero control over your privacy, nor anything relating to privacy. The closest these changes come to private is if you happen to read this article while sitting on the john.

It wouldn’t change the reality of what was happening. It’d just be a refreshing dose of honesty from corporations accustomed to far too much latitude when it comes to describing things as being in the best interests of their users.

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