Here’s a good description of why Yahoo just sent out millions of notices about its “privacy policy.”

“One time Pac-Bell (now under SBC name umbrella) users were promised “incredible new services” last fall if they signed up for the new co-branded SBC/Yahoo service. What they weren’t being told (at least very clearly) is that they were be opted in to the massive Yahoo marketing universe. SBC’s privacy policy simply indicated that “Yahoo has its own privacy policy and may use your personal information in ways which are different than SBC’s policy contemplates.”

” “Different” is certainly one way to put it. “A massive multi-corporation marketing hell where your opt-out preferences aren’t always respected” is another.

“Yahoo found themselves under fire from privacy advocates last year when they decided to essentially reset their marketing criteria, and started marketing to users who had already opted out. Users found their marketing preferences reset, and had to opt-out a second time. The tactic resulted in a slap on the wrist from NY Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who fined the company $75,000 and reminded them that “no means no”.

” “It is neither appropriate nor legally permissible for a company to compile a database of personal information through an online registration process and then attempt to use the information for telemarketing purposes to target consumers who have stated that they do not want to receive solicitations,” Spitzer warned at the time.

“Under the terms of the settlement with Spitzer, Yahoo could still e-mail or snail mail users who opted out before the 2002 change, but could not call them. They also agreed to notify users 30 days before a marketing policy change is to take effect. With Yahoo’s new policy set to take effect January 1, 2004, those users this week received a reminder e-mail.

“Under the new policy (and thanks to Spitzer), users who previously opted-out from Yahoo marketing materials will not be subjected to third-party marketing. They’ll still receive marketing directly from Yahoo, though this too can be eliminated via the Yahoo marketing preferences page. Unfortunately, if marketing partners already have these users’ information, there’s not much to be done about stopping the marketing onslaught.

“From the Yahoo web-mail screen, select Mail Options—>Account Information (on the left)—>Edit Your Marketing Preferences; then make changes according to your preferences. Your choices take approximately 5 days to take effect.”