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New changes to email accounts at Yahoo have the potential to frustrate marketers and cause privacy concerns across the globe.

Privacy has never been so important to all of us, and invasion of privacy has never been feared as it is today.

Countless reports over the past few years around hacking and miss-use of data has reached the top of the news headlines, which makes Yahoo!'s recent move in releasing dormant email accounts, all the more puzzling.

In the past few months, Yahoo! has become more aggressive about attempting to reactivate email accounts, and if unsuccessful, invalidating those "inactive" email addresses so that someone else can use it.

Ultimately, they are trying to get inactive users to reclaim their Yahoo! email address by sending out email messages to these users’ alternative addresses similar to the following:

Yahoo! has stated in the above example, that any account that has been inactive for at least a year that has not been accessed by July 15 will be released 'back into the wild', starting in August. Wow.

Cheerfully announced via the company's Tumblr page by Jay Rossiter, Senior Vice President of Platforms at Yahoo!, yourname@yahoo.com can be yours (although likely to be at the expense of some other poor soul). Interested?

Marketers and consumers are both worried about this - you only have to look at the sentiment on the Yahoo! Tumblr page where it was announced.

One user described Yahoo! as "more dangerous to the security of the internet than any government at this point". A little extreme maybe, but it represents how people feel about this bizzare move from the tech giant. 

There is certainly some concern with this from a privacy perspective as emails could come to these re-purposed, re-assigned addresses that were intended for the previous owner, not only risking the wrath of a spam complaint (beware, marketers), but potentially sending sensitive information to an unintended recipient.

Clearly it is bad practice for marketers to send to any individual that has been unresponsive for such a long time, but we all know that it happens at times. 

Surely if this is an attempt to reactivate 'lapsed' email account holders, it would be best for everyone if they just write-off those addresses instead of re-releasing them back into the public?

What do you think about Yahoo's move? Let us know in the comments below.

Philip Storey

Published 4 July, 2013 by Philip Storey

Philip Storey is Global Head of Strategic Services at Lyris, London and is a contributor to Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter

6 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Andy Kinsey

I can see both sides of the coin here - but let me just make 2 points, 1 of which isn't made above.

1) in the world of email marketing companies often get paid per email sent etc etc - so this is bad for them. But for business this is good news, it means you are not going to be sending so much email into a black hole of no return to your business. Why pay for it to just languish on a Yahoo server? - so this means emails will become more targeted automatically (in some ways) and whilst saving business cash will see the returns stay at the same level - thus a higher ROI. Good work yahoo!

2) A few years ago when Yahoo was still a huge player (maybe to some it still is) BT teamed up with them, as did many others offering @yahoo based addresses. These were used by every tom, dick and harry for signing up for things like online banking, amazon and paypal accounts etc - imagine if this was leveraged - imagine if someone you fell out with knew your account was being sent to the wild, nicked it and was able to gain access to your bank account and transfer all your cash away. However unlikely you think this to happen, i am pretty sure it will be one of the first things to come of this move.

Is yahoo evil for making this move, nope. But maybe they should begin to take precautions and checking for emails from banks and amazon etc and some how sending a reply back for a few months (before sending anything to the wild) which says this account is closed please remove the email from your database - at least then if one or two savvy banks in the UK or a couple of dozen across the world took note it would save some people.

The truth is, this move is going to be made whether we like it or not as marketers. But as citizens of a world we want to be secure in we need to make sure that yahoo isn't risking things like our financial information and access.

over 3 years ago

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Cara Olson

It should not be as big of an issue as many are making it out to be. 93% of the ACCOUNTS that Yahoo is "recycling" are not email accounts. Also, after 6 months of inactivity for these remaining 7% Yahoo should already have been returning a bounce back message. If you use an ESP that processes bounces to mark inactives then you shouldn't be mailing to these and therefore not be at risk for higher spam complaints. Yes, you may need new processes to allow for reactivating. It is a little trickier with the online account privacy issues. If you as a consumer have an abandoned email address just make sure you aren't using it on any login sites. Doesn't seem like you are if you haven't logged into the email account in more than 12 months, but you should confirm.

over 3 years ago

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Matteo Bertini, Head of Marketing at DRTV - ecommerce company

I feel the biggest issue isthe second one in Cara's message.
Many web sites use email address as the primary key for user identification purposes and often don't allow changes to this item.
So, the new owner of the email won't be able to use it to subscribe to some sites around. And let's hope the previous owner has chosen a clever password...
No issue about email sending out if Yahoo will setup a suitable cleansing period (6 months?), with the freed up addresses disabled and returning hard bounce. The ESPs will mark the address as undeliverable.
About email marketing best practices, I agree usually is not good practice sending emails to people who didn't open over a long period, but there are very few statements around that are valid for all businesses.
Talking about my database for instance (around 500k addresses), I usually have a reactivation rate of over 3% when sending ordinary emails (not reactivation emails) to people who opened the last one over a year before.

over 3 years ago

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Becs Rivett

I work in financial services so this news is pretty worrying. When customers sign up for an online product, they only receive account notifications by email. Sometimes they only receive emails when their product is nearing the end of its life because they have opted out of marketing emails - so this can be two or three years. Therein lies the problem...

over 3 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant AgencySmall Business

Thank you for your comments. I think that you have all raised some interesting points here, and thank you for getting involved.

@Becs Rivett - your point is particularly interesting and I don't think you are alone here. There are many companies in sectors such as yours, where the lifespan of a product can stretch several years, and sometimes marketing is not appropriate or opted-in to across this period of time. Your point seems to raise the possibility of someone receiving a sensitive transactional message, that is actually intended to be received by someone else.

Thanks again!

over 3 years ago

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