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Service changes baffle Yahoo customers

Some users of the online giant's e-mail-forwarding feature find themselves booted from the service because they said they would not accept third-party marketing messages.

A flurry of changes in Yahoo's Web-based services has customers spinning in confusion over the status of their accounts and preferences.

Many of the problems began last week, when Yahoo changed some default settings governing its e-mail marketing practices. The changes haven't gone smoothly. Angry customers immediately protested and rushed to switch their preferences back.

That reaction in turn produced its own unexpected consequences, when some users of Yahoo's e-mail-forwarding feature found themselves unceremoniously booted from the service.

E-mail forwarding will become a paid service as of April 24, but customers for now can access it for free as long as they agree to accept third-party marketing messages. A Yahoo representative said some members apparently reset their preferences and triggered their removal from a third-party list known as Yahoo Delivers, thus terminating their free e-mail-forwarding accounts, or POP service.

"If they unsubscribe to Yahoo Delivers, they no longer have access to POP forwarding," the Yahoo representative said. "If they re-subscribe to Yahoo Delivers, they will have access (to POP) until April 24 for free."

Over the past year, Yahoo has steadily begun charging for the use of certain services. Most of these fees fall under the company's data-storage services, such as a larger e-mail in-box or more storage for online photos. Company executives have flagged service charges as a priority, given how severely Yahoo was hit by the online advertising collapse.

But during the last few weeks, Yahoo has undergone widespread changes that have affected some of its services and altered the site's marketing practices. In March, Yahoo said it would charge $29.99 a year to use e-mail forwarding beginning April 24.

A week later, Yahoo revised its privacy policy and restructured its marketing preferences page. Before, people who registered for Yahoo could choose not to receive any e-mail correspondence from the company or from outside parties. Now, Yahoo users have to check "No" for a dozen product categories including the permission to receive phone calls or direct mail at home.

Many people fumed over the switch, claiming Yahoo had changed its policies without first notifying them. Yahoo said the changes would not take effect until 60 days after the last e-mail notification is sent.

Receiving e-mail from Yahoo Delivers is one of the options in the marketing preferences page, but it is checked "No" by default. If a POP-forwarding user decides not to change the default setting for Yahoo Delivers, that person will have free POP forwarding until April 24. But if before that date a POP-forwarding user changes "Yes" default settings in any other categories on the marketing preferences page, that person may inadvertently trigger the "No" default for Yahoo Delivers and shut off free POP access immediately.

These changes have caused considerable confusion among Yahoo users. Laurie Ham, a housewife from Austin, Texas, who has used Yahoo's POP forwarding for two years, recently changed her marketing preferences. She said that within two hours she was unable to receive e-mail forwarded to her from Yahoo.

"I realize they are making these changes probably because they need the profits, but frankly, they are only making subscribers irritated," Ham wrote in an e-mail. "I have several friends who also use Yahoo for their e-mail that are now switching to someone else."