Yahoo removes email addresses from contacts list

This week I found out that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is on the cover of Vogue Magazine and I received an email from Yahoo with the subject line “An update was made to your mail account”. The two events are not related and it’s not that the Vogue cover didn’t get a reaction from me, but the email message was much more interesting. My first thought was that the message was a phishing email. By chance, I am currently working on a security awareness presentation and phishing is a topic. So I opened the email anticipating I would find the opportunity for a screenshot and example to share in my presentation. I was wrong.

The email read as follows:

Yahoo Updates Contact List

The two email addresses are real contacts in my address book, so I navigated to the address book on my own (not through the link) to check. Sure enough, the email addresses for these two contacts are now empty.

The Yahoo ID cleanup

Yahoo announced they were removing inactive Yahoo accounts that had been inactive for at least 12 months. So it makes sense they would also remove email addresses to these accounts from customer’s contact lists.  This prevents other Yahoo mail users from sending emails to the account when it could now be reassigned to a completely different individual.

Is this an invasion of privacy or is it a nice customer service feature?

What’s different about this particular notification and event for my contact list is that the two addresses removed were not Yahoo email addresses. They were from different domains. I looked in the Yahoo Mail Terms of Service.

The TOS gives Yahoo the right to “scan and analyze all incoming and outgoing communications content sent and received from your account (such as Mail and Messenger content including instant messages and SMS messages) including those stored in your account to, without limitation, provide personally relevant product features and content, to match and serve targeted advertising and for spam and malware detection and abuse protection. “

But I could not find any place where I agreed to allow Yahoo to remove contacts from my contacts list without asking for permission. If you are a Yahoo user and you know where this is stated please let me know!

Who benefits from this?

So just who benefits from this action by Yahoo? Why did they really do this?

If the addresses were reassigned to someone else by the provider it could eliminate the potential for me to send personal correspondence to the wrong address. In this scenario it could also reduce the potential for spam for the new owner of the address. But I don’t suspect Yahoo made this change to help me or the potential new owner of the email address.

It helps Yahoo reduce the number of bounced messages coming back into their system for undeliverable mail. I don’t know this for sure, but I would think that the number of undeliverable messages to a destination provider increases the chances that the destination will classify your domain as a likely spam source. Since Yahoo is a free email service, it already has a higher potential for spammers to register accounts there. So I believe this is an ongoing battle for Yahoo.

My .02

At the end of the day, I’m not hung up on some privacy angle with this move by Yahoo. The move helps me to know that these contacts are no longer using the address and gives me the chance to either update with their new email address (if I call them!) or remove their record from my contact list. In this instance Yahoo did not completely remove the contact record. They on removed the email address of the contact record.

Everyone wins.