Yahoo! change might bring unwanted mail online and off

April 25, 2002|By Mike Himowitz

IF YOU'RE ONE of the millions who use Yahoo! e-mail, you'd better check your messages now, or you could be getting a lot of mail you don't want - and maybe even a few phone calls from telemarketers.

The Web's most successful Internet portal has changed both its privacy policy and your "marketing preferences." The latter is Web-speak for your willingness to be subjected to advertising in your in box. Unless you change your profile by June 15, you'll give the Web site permission to send its advertisements not only to your Yahoo! mailbox, but also to your outside e-mail account, your regular postal mailbox and possibly even your phone.

I've always liked Yahoo!, but this is troubling conduct from one of the Web's few class acts. The site offers a superb, searchable Web index compiled by real humans (as opposed to software robots), along with excellent news feeds, financial information, e-mail, a personal calendar, online games, greeting cards and other features.

Until recently, these services were all free, in the sense that they were largely supported by advertising, and most of them are still free. But like other Web businesses hit hard by the dot-com bust and recession-driven advertising slump, Yahoo! has been feeling the pain. So it has begun charging for some services.

For example, e-mail subscribers who have had their Yahoo! messages forwarded to other e-mail accounts will now have to pay $29.95 a year for the privilege. The company killed its online Invitation service last month and now charges premiums to play some games, as well as for high-volume online photo, e-mail and file storage.

This isn't unusual - Web freebies have been disappearing everywhere during the past year - and Yahoo! doesn't owe anyone anything. But now it's moving from the upfront "opt-in" model, which requires your permission before you get advertising e-mail, to the more confusing "opt-out," model, which means automatically you'll get advertising e-mail from Yahoo! and its customers unless you tell Yahoo! to stop.

This would be only mildly annoying if it were limited to your Yahoo! mailbox. But Yahoo! has extended it to your external e-mail accounts and your home address and phone number, if you ever provided that information during some transaction with the service.

You'll find this explained in an e-mail that Yahoo! is sending to its members.

To turn the advertising off, you must go to the site's Marketing Preferences page and check or uncheck 16 different boxes. Don't ignore the message (it's flagged in blue) and be sure you read it through to the end - maybe two or three times. The fine print is very important these days.

Spyware battles

After reading a column on spyware and other nasty hidden programs installed on computers by Kazaa and other "free" file-sharing software, several readers chided me for not mentioning Ad-Aware, another free program that removes these goblins from your hard drive.

You can download Ad-Aware from the LavaSoft Web site (www.lavasoft.de). It does an excellent job of identifying spyware and eliminating it. You should also update the program regularly - especially if you've also downloaded a free music player called Radlight.

It seems that Radlight, produced by a Slovakian programmer who calls himself DAvenger, seeks out and removes Ad-Aware software from users' hard drives. LavaSoft, in turn, released a new version of Ad-Aware that nullified Radlight. After Ad-Aware users protested and some download sites removed Radlight from their libraries, DAvenger released a version of his software that would not kill off Ad-Aware.

In a statement on his Web site, DAvenger argued that Ad-Aware too often removed "regular legal programs" and that he was just demonstrating what would happen if programs started uninstalling one another. The thing he forgot is that when Ad-Aware removes a program it's at the user's request.

This sort of shenanigan makes surfing the Web feel like going for a swim in the sewer.

Get a bird's-eye view

If you surf to MapQuest.com and enter your address in the search form, you'll see the usual map of your neighborhood. Now click on the tab labeled "aerial photo" and you'll see a photo of the same area snapped from a satellite or airplane.

As with an online map, you can zoom in or out, see an enlarged version, e-mail the photo to a friend, or call up a Web page with a picture that's suitable for printing. If you right-click on the printable photo and select "Save Picture As" from the pop-up menu, you can store the photo in JPEG format on your hard drive.

Although these were screen resolution photos, I was impressed by the color and detail when I zoomed into the closest level. I could easily pick out my house and the beat-up white mini-van that we had when the photo was taken. If you can get this stuff free on the Web, imagine what the government's industrial-strength spy satellites can see.

The photographs are provided by GlobeXplorer (www. globexplorer.com), a 3-year-old company that has assembled a huge collection of satellite and aerial images. The neat trick is integrating the imagery with standard mapping software to provide photos of any area within a few seconds. It looks easy on the Web, but there's some heavy-duty technology involved behind those clicks.

Aside from Web-based outfits such as MapQuest, the main customers for this kind of imagery are businesses, real-estate firms and government agencies who can benefit from near-instant access to aerial photos. But GlobeXplorer will be glad to send you a high-resolution 8-by-10 print of the area of your choice for $20 or an 11-by-14 one for $25. It would make a good display on the wall of your home office or your kids' room.

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