Preserving Yahoo Groups

Yahoo is sending out alerts on the transformation of Yahoo Groups into a list server. The spin is ridiculous. The changes “better align with user habits,” and “we are making adjustments to ultimately serve you better.” It’s as if users had been protesting against the existence of public groups and Web-hosted discussions and Yahoo were complying with the demand.

Yahoo, in case you haven’t been keeping track (I hadn’t), now belongs to Verizon. It makes economic decisions, and one was that running public Yahoo Groups was no longer worth the cost and effort. This is the result of changing user preferences, as well as stupid policy decisions over the years that drove people away. The attempts to correct those blunders may be part of the current problem.

According to PC Magazine, Verizon is making it difficult to archive public groups. On this Saturday, December 14, public Yahoo Groups will come to an end. They’re already read-only. People can download their own content until January 31, 2020. However, anyone who wants to download all the content has few options.

Volunteer archivists used a “semi-automated” tool to capture the content of their groups for preservation. However, Verizon has blocked their accounts for violating the terms of service. A group called Archive Team (which I think is unrelated to archiveteam.org) says that its members have lost access to over 55,000 groups, including 30,000 characterized as “fandom.”

Too much “privacy”?

This might be a case where Yahoo is constrained by its own terms of service and privacy policy. It has prohibitions against content scraping and mass downloading. Perhaps the people running it think they’d be violating users’ privacy expectations by changing the terms now. However, Yahoo’s terms of service (now under the name Verizon Media) have a perfectly usable escape clause: “Unless stated differently for your country in Section 14, we may modify the Terms from time to time. Unless we indicate otherwise, modifications will be effective as of the date they are posted on this page or any successor page.” In fact, the most recent update was December 2019.

The terms say that “when you upload, share with or submit content to the Services you retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content and you grant to us a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, transferable, sublicensable license to (a) use, host, store, reproduce, modify, prepare derivative works (such as translations, adaptations, summaries or other changes), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display, and distribute this content in any manner, mode of delivery or media now known or developed in the future; and (b) permit other users to access, reproduce, distribute, publicly display, prepare derivative works of, and publicly perform your content via the Services, as may be permitted by the functionality of those Services (e.g., for users to re-blog, re-post or download your content).” That seems to give Verizon enough leeway to allow bulk downloading, or pretty much any use of the content.

It would have been less effort for Verizon to allow the archiving. There’s a lot of legal material in the terms, and I may have missed something important. Some users would doubtless prefer to have their old posts forgotten and buried. I wonder if Verizon is worried about the so-called “right to be forgotten,” which is enshrined in the EU’s GDPR.

The options are meager for preservation, but at least you can preserve your own content. If you’ve put anything on Yahoo Groups that might be worth keeping, pay attention to the email you should recently have received. You can always delete your personal archive later if you change your mind.

Additional note

Update, December 13: I came across a post on Reddit about preserving a group related to Girl Genius. The post says: “In completing the backup it was revealed to me that private information was not obscured. Information such as users email names and associated IP addresses + resolved hostnames. This revelation means I cannot in good faith share the files to anyone.” The inability to suppress private information may explain why Verizon is fighting the archivists.

When it came to the privacy of dissidents, Yahoo was happy to turn over personal information to the Chinese government. That’s one of the reasons users have fled from Yahoo for the past decade.

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