Has Yahoo! Mail Jumped the Shark?

Yahoo! Mail ran a test by attaching third party advertisements to the bottom of each email message I sent using my Yahoo! Mail account during the past week. Here are three such ads:


Sponsored Link

Mortgage rates near 39yr lows. $420,000 Mortgage for $1,399/mo – Calculate new house payment

Sponsored Link

Online degrees – find the right program to advance your career.


Sponsored Link

Degrees online in as fast as 1 Yr – MBA, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Associate – Click now to apply

Previously, that ad spot was held only by internal Yahoo! products such as Yahoo! Mail, Messenger, and Music. Those are expected. This is, after all, mail from a Yahoo! Mail account. However, third party advertisements, particularly bottom-of-the-barrel advertisers like LowerMyBills and Nextag, are another story.

To be blunt, I think it stinks. I understand that Yahoo! is a business but it needs users as much as it needs advertisers. Attaching third party advertisements to the bottom of user emails will likely turn users off to Yahoo! Mail and the company in general and is a particularly risky move because there are viable competing products that don’t attach third party ads, like GMail and Hotmail.

If Yahoo! Mail likes the result of the test and decides to continue down this path, I have some demands (after all, I am now just a user):

1) More clear and conspicuous disclosure.

a) Name the advertiser and/or domain. Only one of the three advertisers I listed above are named.
b) Disclosure that this ad is inserted by Yahoo!.
c) A “more info” link that points to a help page that contains more information about what this is about.
d) The font used for the disclosures needs updating. It should be the same or similar font size, weight, and color as the ad itself. “Sponsored Link” is currently in grey (versus black) and in a smaller font than the ad. If the ad is in black, the text should be too. The current set-up makes it look like Yahoo! is hiding something.

2) Control over advertisers and advertising categories. Major advertisers (i.e. Chevy, Dell, Disney, etc) that sell regular products and services are fine. However, I don’t want bottom of the barrel advertisements hawking controversial products or services that will make my emails look spammy or get caught in spam filtering software. Examples include LowerMyBills, X10, CIC (credit reports), sites selling diplomas or telling us how to earn a degree, selling prescription drugs such as ci@lis and viagra, or sites pushing multi-level marketing (MLM).

3) No web beacons or graphical ads ever. Enough said.

4) More information about how this works. Questions that need to be answered include:

  • “How are advertisers chosen?”
  • “How are the ads and advertisers screened?”
  • “What type of ads will never appear?”
  • “How are the ads targeted?”
  • “Are my email messages scanned to determine the topic?”
  • etc.

I think these demands are reasonable. I’m not asking for a cut; having a free, dependable email service is enough for me. I just don’t want my messages to look like spam, be flagged as spam, or for the ads to offend the recipients. Even then, I won’t decide whether to accept the ads until I have more info.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone, but Yahoo! is in the trust business. Without user trust, Yahoo! is nothing. Users build a lot of equity in their online identities, including their email addresses, but that doesn’t mean they won’t abandon the company and its products if they feel they can no longer trust it. That same equity is what makes a user fight like hell if that identity is threatened.

I could say a million things more but I don’t have time. I should be studying.

Note: I edited this some and made my blog public again after finding out this program was a test that has since ended. I’m glad I don’t need to consider giving up my email account just yet.

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