Yahoo! Widens Data Sharing Options

Yahoo could share users’ personal information with third parties in new ways, through updates to its privacy policy.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo said the changes to its privacy stance came about in an effort to integrate three previous policies. Prompted by federal legislation passed in recent years concerning information disclosure, Yahoo began maintaining separate documents governing its children-oriented properties and its financial sites and services, in addition to maintaining its original policy outlining data-collection and information sharing policies on the rest of the portal.

Within the policies were stipulations guaranteeing the Web portal the right to provide other parties with personally identifiable information in certain circumstances, including under a court order, and if a user violates Yahoo’s terms of services.

Now, however, Yahoo retains the right to share data to “investigate, prevent, or take action” on activities that it believes to be potentially illegal. It also will be able to share information in “situations involving potential threats to the physical safety of any person.”

Yahoo also disclosed that it could share personal data with other companies if it acquires or merges with another firm — a shift that could have bearing on its recent acquisition of recruiting site HotJobs.com, which also collects personal information on users. Thus, it’s conceivable that Yahoo’s and HotJobs’ combined user profiles could be used to target advertising based on more extensive criteria — ostensibly increasing ads’ effectiveness, but also raising new questions.

For instance: although not specifically changing its policy, Yahoo also more clearly disclosed information-gleaning that could result in advertisers deriving personal information. While Yahoo doesn’t specifically pass financial status or demographic information to advertisers, it delivers banner ads based on the profiles it has of users. If an advertiser requested, say, users with a household income of over $100,000, it could safely assume that people who received that ad have that level of income. If an advertiser is serving a cookie with the ad, it could begin to build its own profile of the user.

“By interacting with or viewing an ad you are consenting to the possibility that the advertiser will make the assumption that you meet the targeting criteria used to display the ad,” the company stated in its policy.

In addition to new information-sharing policies, Yahoo is making other changes that will likely affect its consumer marketing.

The firm created a new Marketing Preferences page, located in users’ Account Information area, which more clearly spells out what promotional mailings users will receive.

At the same time it changed its privacy policies, Yahoo also said it “reset” users’ marketing preferences — meaning that unless they visit the page and unselect its checkboxes, they could begin to receive promotional mailings beginning in May.

In emails that plans to send to users during the coming weeks, Yahoo asks that they review the privacy policy changes and the Marketing Preferences page, as well as update their personal information “so you can continue to receive content that is the most relevant and interesting to you.”

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