Email

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
email, privacy, scanning, yahoo, yahoo mail

Companies:
oath, verizon, yahoo



Verizon's Oath Will Still Scan Your E-mail For Advertising Purposes Because Hey, It's Verizon

from the Verizon-gonna-Verizon dept

While all major webmail companies have veered away from the idea of automatically scanning private e-mails in a bid to monetize the content for behavioral advertising due to public backlash, that's simply not how Verizon rolls. According to a deep dive over at the Wall Street Journal (watch out for the paywall, here's a Verizon-owned Techcrunch alternative), Verizon and its Oath subsidiary now offer the country's only major webmail service that still thinks this practice is a good idea:

"Yahoo’s owner, the Oath unit of Verizon Communications, has been pitching a service to advertisers that analyzes more than 200 million Yahoo Mail inboxes and the rich user data they contain, searching for clues about what products those users might buy, said people who have attended Oath’s presentations as well as current and former employees of the company."

After backlash, Google ended its own practice of auto-monetizing e-mail content for behavioral ads last year, acknowledging that the practice doesn't exactly instill trust in your customers (e-mails are still automatically scanned as part of the company's "Smart Compose" feature, but content is no longer monetized). Apple has never scanned subscriber e-mails for this purpose, and Microsoft told Techcrunch this week that the company does “not use email content for ad targeting in any way, anywhere in Microsoft." The shift has been part of an effort to compete on privacy, which is an idea that should be encouraged.

Coming from the telecom sector, Verizon's not quite as familiar with this whole competition thing. In comments to the Journal, Oath's vice president of data, measurements and insights provided a very Verizon-esque response, suggesting the scanning was a public benefit to users eager to see more relevant ads:

"Mr. Sharp said that being served ads is part of the trade-off users make in exchange for free online services, and that Yahoo’s research shows they prefer ads that are relevant to them.

"Email is an expensive system,” Mr. Sharp said. "I think it’s reasonable and ethical to expect the value exchange, if you’ve got this mail service and there is advertising going on."

Yes, so ethical.

On the plus side, Verizon's e-mail scanning doesn't include health and medical information, though in the wild west of consumer privacy oversight that is the United States, you'd have a hard time confirming that this or other information (like financial data) isn't being exploited. After all, Verizon doesn't exactly have a great track record about being candid about this sort of thing. That said, it looks like even before Verizon came on board Yahoo's e-mail scanning and monetization system went notably further than Google's ever did:

"Initially, Yahoo mined users’ emails in part to discover products they bought through receipts from e-commerce companies such as Amazon.com Inc., people familiar with the practice said. Yahoo salespeople told potential advertisers that about one-third of Yahoo Mail users were active Amazon customers, one of the people said. In 2015, Amazon stopped including full itemized receipts in the emails it sends customers, partly because the company didn’t want Yahoo and others gathering that data for their own use, someone familiar with the matter said."

The problem is that while Verizon has hungrily eyed Silicon Valley giants' ad revenues for years, its effort to pivot into the ad sector isn't going so well. The company's Go90 video platform, purported to be the cornerstone of Verizon's Millennial-focused video ad ambitions, recently imploded after a fairly severe lack of public interest. And while Oath may ultimately prove to be a powerhouse in advertising, refusing to bend to competitive trends and consumer concerns by scanning the e-mails of millions of subscribers for an extra buck isn't a great way to build a trustworthy brand.

Of course, anybody surprised that Verizon would take the low road shouldn't be. After all, this is the same company that was caught a few years ago covertly modifying user wireless packets so it could track users around the internet without telling them. It took two years for security researchers to even notice it, and months more before Verizon could be bothered to offer a working opt out tool. And while the company was ultimately fined by the FCC for the practice, a bigger variant of that technology has long-since been implemented across Verizon's entire Oath (the combination of Yahoo and AOL) ad network.

Of course we haven't even gotten to Verizon's ultra-cozy relationship with the nation's intelligence apparatus yet, or the fact that giant ISPs routinely engage in pretty sleazy behavior to undermine pretty much any effort to shore up the nation's privacy standards, regardless of the quality of the effort. All while hoovering up and monetizing private user browsing and location data on a scale that pretty routinely makes the Facebook, Cambridge scandal look like child's play.

Granted if Verizon wants to undermine its own efforts to pivot into the online ad space that's its prerogative, but it might make sense for the traditionally myopic telecom giant to try and evolve on the consumer trust front as well. As an aside, if you're a Yahoo e-mail customer, you should be able to opt out here.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 11:16am

    One could troll them with all sort of silliness and then report upon the resulting ads. I bet you could write your thesis on this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 31 Aug 2018 @ 11:54am

    "Mr. Sharp said that being served ads is part of the trade-off users make in exchange for free online services, and that Yahoo’s research shows they prefer ads that are relevant to them.

    As usual, these guys ignore data that contradicts their preferred outcome.

    1. Yes, being served ads is part of the trade-off for use of a 'free' service.

    2. Yes, people would prefer ad targeted towards their preferences, in-so-far anyone has a preference for ad types at all.

    3. That doesn't mean that when it comes to scanning my private communications for keywords to be used to target those ads that I wouldn't prefer untargeted ads if it meant that no one - even a machine - is reading my stuff.

    Oath, did you even ask that last question? Google did. Which is why they don't read email to target ads anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 12:26pm

      Re:

      Well, that and Google's got plenty of other ways to analyze its users' information for advertising purposes. Yahoo, while still somewhat popular for webmail, doesn't have a whole lot of other popular services anymore.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 1 Sep 2018 @ 8:54am

      Re:

      Regardless what people may answer, if they were in fact ever asked, you are correct to bring up the question related to your point 3. I would also add - Even if they answered yes, do they understand the implications? Further, do they actually look at your stupid ads at all?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wothe (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 1:44pm

    Disguised yahoo account

    Much to my surprise, my ** Frontier.com** ISP provided email keeps telling me that I must accept Yahoo/Oath terms to continue.

    It ain't just a trade-off for a free account ---- I pay my ISP!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 1:55pm

      Re: Disguised yahoo account

      Why use an ISP provided email account, it makes life difficult should you ever change to a different ISP. That could happen if for instance you move.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wothe (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 2:01pm

        Re: Re: Disguised yahoo account

        You are right about the portability issue. My primary use is for "so what" local purposes.

        I have other "portable" emails with alias abilities and built-in encryption abilities (like ProtonMail)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 2:06pm

    So now instead of avoiding Yahoo like the plague I'll be avoiding Yahoo like a radioactive plague. Ok then.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 4:21pm

      Re:

      Don't worry, they'll help you do it. Every time I accidentally click a Yahoo link I get a "Yahoo is now part of Oath" page, extolling the virtues of personalized advertising and asking permission for some shit. And it gives no hint what the page I was trying to access was—IOW, no hint of any benefit from agreeing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 2:15pm

    Verizon shoveled us off to AOL's E-Mail

    So who is watching who, and who does one blame?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Russian Spy, 31 Aug 2018 @ 3:38pm

    Stop Using "Free" Email

    Buttle over to namcheap or other domain provider, buy your own domain name, buy their email service, and be done with it.
    I pay about $25 a year and use a catch-all account so I can set up mailboxes on my client-side and everyone gets a unique email address for login credentials. It's saved my butt in big data breaches.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mrbuttermaker, 31 Aug 2018 @ 4:16pm

    Alternatives

    Well If you think this is being used for just advertising . Think again. And the I.P more than likely captured right here. Lets just say its fi you get that little red flag on your mail box someday. Advertising will be the least of your worries.. Use alternatives like PROTONMAIL based in Switzerland. Id even roll the dice with Yandex over goog and yhoo . Ditch all of them and by all means lets all stop using the phrase "gaggle it"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2018 @ 12:16pm

    All three remaining yahoo/Oath customers are probably outraged and as soon as they remember where they left their medication and walker, they'll be going straight to somewhere to complain at the nice young girl behind the till.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2018 @ 12:17pm

    please remember this is YAHOO we're talking about.

    the same company that had a fake "breach" so its employees could steal customer data and sell it / use credit card info for shopping sprees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ped_EchSing, 1 Sep 2018 @ 5:47pm

    Yahoo/Oath Email

    Yah...as a below-poverty person, I joined Yahoo when it was first free.
    2004? 2005?
    Due to the reporting on this site, when Verizon started pushing its new
    TOS, I said "Hold the door long enough to not hit me on my way out."

    I've had enough unavoidable contact with Verizon to allow them access
    to more personal data. (Example: Ped_EchSing [Ped-xing] and fake
    email to post this post.)

    So far, I'd rather trust Google...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Grammar nazi, 4 Sep 2018 @ 1:53pm

    Because (comma) Hey, It's Verizon

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stephany, 11 Sep 2018 @ 5:21am

    Yahoo

    Already Yahoo has the experience. Now for Verizon. As a
    Digital marketing professional, it seems very bad to scan our email.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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