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Yahoo users fume over "spam" switch

The Web portal is finding out the hard way that its Web users detest change--especially to policies concerning bulk e-mail pitches.

Some Yahoo members on Friday reacted angrily to changes in the Web portal's e-mail marketing practices, comparing the company's revised policy to an open invitation to spam.

"I never received any notification about this from Yahoo," one annoyed reader wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com. "I was merely lucky enough to have a friend warn me about it."

The ire stems from changes in Yahoo's "marketing preferences" page, which the company uses to secure permission to send service promotions. Along with other changes to the page, Yahoo said it had reset the default preferences for all members in a way that would require them to manually request that the company block the messages in the future--even if they had declined to accept such e-mail in the past.

Included in the marketing permissions are a smattering of categories for which people can receive special announcements, direct mailings and even phone calls.

The complaints underscore the sensitivity of privacy issues online, especially when it comes to mass e-mail pitches. Although the marketing preferences page offers announcements only about Yahoo properties, Web users traditionally have spurned default settings that require them to opt out of services.

Yahoo on Thursday changed the marketing preferences page and began sending e-mail notices to the people affected. In the e-mail, the company explains that people will have 60 days from the date of the mailing to alter their preferences. A Yahoo representative later added that the company likely will not implement the changes until 60 days after the last e-mail is sent.

"We are notifying users proactively via e-mail of this change, after which they have 60 days after the date of the mailing to edit those marketing preferences, giving users plenty of time to decide how they want Yahoo to communicate with them," a Yahoo representative reiterated.

But word travels fast on the Internet. Many who had not received the e-mail notice were alerted of the changes from other Yahoo members. Most were shocked to find the new marketing preferences page.

"They could have just as easily defaulted everyone's 'Marketing (Preferences)' to No instead of Yes and come off smelling like roses," another reader wrote in an e-mail. "They chose to be greedy and will now have to deal with a mess of ugly publicity and ticked-off users."