You'd think someone besides Facebook and Google would learn from the companies' recent privacy gaffes, but maybe not. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Yahoo is preparing to launch new sharing features for its e-mail users. Unless users opt out of the feature, Yahoo will share information about their online activities with the people in their contact lists.
In preparation for the launch, expected later this month, Yahoo has been reminding users to review their privacy settings. Actually, writer Michael Liedtke explains, the company has been "testing and talking about" the changes for quite some time now in an effort to avoid surprising users like Google did when it released the Buzz microblogging platform. Yahoo wants to give its users plenty of time and "the opportunity to opt-out of the service with the single click of a button," the story says.
Those behind the project are wise to promise "not to expose a person's e-mail contacts to the public" and wanting to give the users an opportunity to opt out is a good start. However, Yahoo may face opposition anyway -- if not from users, from privacy advocacy groups.
Groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, among others, have said repeatedly that their primary concern with the privacy controls Facebook had (and has) in place and those that caused the Google Buzz backlash is that they were opt-out rather than opt-in. Social network participants should be able to choose how much or which parts of their information should be shared and with whom, not just given the opportunity to decide whether they do or do not want to share their information generally, the groups say.
But like a coworker reminded me earlier, it's probably not that Yahoo is unaware of what's coming. The company wants to see how much it can get away with.