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Will You Still Yahoo?

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 4/12/02 issue of R&R For the month of February, the top 5 search engines on the internet were very familiar names: Ask.com, the Ask Jeeves folks, came in at number 5, at 4 was AOL.com, at number 3 was Google, and at number 2 was Microsoft Network. At the top of the heap?

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Good old Yahoo!. Once again, the site that pretty much stands as the default directory in most people's minds was at number one, pulling more than 35 million unique web surfers to their directory, to the search engine powered by Google, and to all of their personalized services like My Yahoo!, Yahoo! Email, Calendar, Shopping, Auctions, Personals and news services.

There's a speed bump coming in Yahoo's dominance, though, and if it all falls apart for Yahoo, it will be at their own hands.

Over the course of the next month, many of the free services that have drawn so many users to Yahoo's doors will be going subscription. It remains to be seen whether or not customers used to getting YahooStuff for free will fork over cash, but Yahoo's not making it easy on you. They've succeeded in alienating many of its customers by drastically changing its approach to your marketing preferences.

In a nutshell, they've thrown out the window any of the carefully crafted choices you've made to prevent or allow Yahoo to send you offers through e-mail, either directly or from third party customers. Angry Yahoo! users who we made aware of this on CNET this week found a second and third insult waiting for them.

In addition to all of their preferences set to Yes (Allow), effectively opting in every Yahoo user to spam unless they went to the site to reset them to No (Disallow), scrolling even further down the page shows something a bit more scary: if you've ever ordered something from a Yahoo! Store or won a Yahoo! Auction, Yahoo! has your address and phone number. And those too are automatically opted in as a path to reach you: if you don't change things, they can now send you paper mail and call you during dinner.

Finally, if you go in to your Yahoo! preferences and set them all to No, you will lose several privileges on Yahoo! instantly, including auto-forwarding of your Yahoo! Mail to your regular Internet mail account, forcing you to travel to Yahoo's site to get any e-mail. The magic threshold is 1/3 of the options set to Yes to continue with the free services. No one begrudges Yahoo the need to be successful and make money by whatever model they can, but considering the stealth nature of Yahoo's recent actions, visitors might start to look elsewhere for those services and Yahoo! may find themselves with a much smaller audience from which to extract that cash.

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