Yahoo's “Shame”: $30 for a User's Email

Web giant fights release of price sheet for email acounts

When the cops come calling, Yahoo now hands them a menu.

The "Yahoo Compliance Guide for Law Enforcement," which has been posted online despite the Sunnyvale, Calif. company's efforts to get it removed, features detailed how-to instructions for government authorities seeking private user data.

Internet companies cooperate with the authorities all the time. But there's something unseemly about Yahoo's guide, which puts a price on users' privacy: $30 to $40, in the case of a user's email account. The bounty is legal -- federal law requires law enforcement agencies to reimburse companies for costs incurred responding to such requests.

The document also details what kind of information Yahoo keeps on users of services like Flickr, Yahoo Groups, and Yahoo Chat, and how long that information is retained.

Yahoo previously got in trouble for handing over a Chinese journalist's emails to the Chinese government. The journalist, Shi Tao, was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

In the wake of that debacle, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang was hauled in front of Congress and berated by the late Bay Area Congressman Tom Lantos. The company settled a lawsuit with Shi Tao's family and established a human-rights fund. And it goes on about human rights and freedom of expression on its corporate website.

But the guide raises questions about whether Yahoo's practices, even in the United States, match its values.

For one thing, why does Yahoo want to hide this information? The document says that it "is not meant to be distributed to individuals or organizations that are not law enforcement entities, including Yahoo! customers, consumers, or civil litigants."

And Yahoo, in protesting a request to release the document under the Freedom of Information Act, said its release would only serve to "shock" consumers and shame "Yahoo."

Here's a thought: If Yahoo is ashamed of the information in the guide, maybe it shouldn't have issued it at all.

Contact Us