The Pros And Cons Of Yahoo’s ID Reset

Out with the old. In with the new.

As a change agent-style marketer, I’m usually a fan of that adage. After all, in order to maintain a competitive edge, marketing organizations often have to jettison “old” practices/processes/mindsets that tend to mire them in the status quo.

But, is “out with the old, in with the new” a sound strategy for email addresses?

Yahoo! thinks so.

Last month, Yahoo! announced it is going to free up and reset IDs that have been inactive for over a year. After a deactivation period where the IDs will be unsubscribed from email lists and send bounce back emails to all correspondence, inactive IDs will be available for new users to claim quite soon, beginning in mid-July.

The ID reset is part of a broader Yahoo! revitalization which includes changes to several Yahoo! products (see here) and the purchase of Tumblr earlier this year.

What does this announcement mean for marketers?

PROS

  • An increase in unsubscribe requests. You may see an increase in the number of Yahoo! emails unsubscribing from your newsletters in the next month as the IDs are reset.
  • New insights into your distribution lists. Inactive email addresses clutter your subscription list and represent people that aren’t receiving your ads. The increased Yahoo unsubscriptions could give you a view of how active your subscription list is and influence marketing decisions in the future.
  • A chance to score a Yahoo ID that was previously taken. If a Yahoo! ID desirable for your brand is inactive, now is the time to claim it. As Jay Rossiter points out at the Yahoo! blog, yourname@yahoo.com could finally (!) be yours.

CONS

  • Potential security concerns. Mat Honan at Wired makes the case that the email reset could allow people to claim Yahoo! IDs and then use them to “take over” identities via password resets and other methods.

Note: Wired also printed Yahoo!’s response to these concerns. Yahoo! said:

“To ensure that these accounts are recycled safely and securely, we’re doing several things. We will have a 30-day period between deactivation and before we recycle these IDs for new users. During this time, we’ll send bounce back emails alerting senders that the deactivated account no longer exists. We will also unsubscribe these accounts from commercial emails such as newsletters and email alerts, among others. Upon deactivation, we will send notification for these potentially recycled accounts to merchants, e-commerce sites, financial institutions, social networks, email providers and other online properties.

  • Time to rethink email as a primary identifier? If you’re like most brands, you use email to allow password reset. And while I realize that (as above) Yahoo! says it will send a bounce message to businesses to inform them that certain IDs are no longer valid, I wonder how many of you are set up to a) translate this bounce/unsubscribe/account inactive message, and b) subsequently do anything about it.

Martin Lee dives into these concerns here, where he eloquently sums up the dilemma and a possible solution:

“In conclusion, what seems at first glance to be a good way of managing unused accounts may have wider effects in changing the assumption that the owner of an email address never changes. Many websites rely on this assumption to maintain the privacy and the confidentiality of the user data that they hold. Recycling email addresses may not only expose individuals to having their personal data compromised, but also expose the providers of web services to the risk of being held accountable for not protecting their users from a reasonably foreseeable problem. Rather than rewriting systems, providers may prefer to require users to register with anything other than a webmail email address.”

I fully suspect that this conversation will be on-going for quite some time as the Yahoo! ID reset and reclaiming continues to roll out this summer. I’d love to hear from you on all of this. What are you recommending to your clients? Or, if you’re a brand, are you changing your registration process to eliminate email as a primary identifier?

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