AOL and Yahoo Scan User Emails Then Sell Data to Advertisers, Report Says Verizon-owned Oath is pitching a service to advertisers analyzing AOL and Yahoo emails to provide targeted ad data, according to The Wall Street Journal.
This story originally appeared on PCMag
Now several months later, a Wall Street Journal report finds that Oath has been pitching a service to advertisers that analyzes more than 200 million Yahoo Mail inboxes for data on which products a user might buy. The practice also extends to AOL mail, Oath said.
Doug Sharp, Oath's vice president of data, measurements and insights, told the Journal that the email scanning is an opt-on service that only applies to commercial emails in people's accounts, not personal mail. Yahoo also has a $3.49/month ad-free email service, which also scans emails, the paper says.
Oath and Verizon did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment.
The Journal states that Yahoo has been employing these types of targeted ad data practices for more than a decade. In its current iteration, the process involves algorithms that scan for commercial emails, strip out any personally identifiable information (PII) about the user, and place a cookie on the device to aid in targeting advertisements to consumer preferences.
In an environment where increased scrutiny on data privacy has led email services such as Google's Gmail to stop email scanning and roll out better user privacy controls, Oath is doubling down on what the company sees as a lucrative revenue stream. The Journal says Oath representatives in marketing meetings acknowledged that many people use their Yahoo email addresses for unwanted commercial email, providing an advantage for advertising data.
When Verizon bought Yahoo, we noted that the hidden threat in the deal was in online advertising revenue. The email-scanning practices are core to the overarching strategy of the merger, giving Verizon an end-to-end pipeline from consumers to advertisers.
AOL and Yahoo users can control their privacy preferences and opt out of these services using Yahoo's Ad Interest Manager, or by managing their settings on Oath's Privacy Controls page.