Whistle blowing is a delicate thing–halfway between being useful or educational for the public and revealing potentially business-damaging data. Which is why Yahoo’s shenanigans following a leak of its pricelist for spying on customers are so juicy.
This time it’s Web site Cryptomine rather than Wikileaks that’s at the center of the controversy: It’s obtained, presumably from a source inside Yahoo itself, a specifications list–including pricing–for legal snooping on its customers. The 17-page document describes the “cost reimbursement” that Yahoo charges for things like accessing a Yahoo group (about $40 to $80) and details on basic subscriber data ($20). The access is to be by the authorities when there’s a question of criminality, of course. But the data also reveals that Yahoo doesn’t keep your email data once you’ve deleted it, and only retains IP data for a single year–but ten years for the computer you set up a Yahoo account from.
It’s all fascinating stuff, from both a freedom of information and user privacy point of view. And you could argue that it doesn’t present much of a risk, in a business sense, to Yahoo–it surely can’t be making much of a profit from law enforcement queries. Or at least, you may think, it shouldn’t be trying to. Which makes Yahoo’s attempts to serve Cryptomine with a take-down notice under the DMCA hugely embarrassing for the company. Yahoo’s lawyers have argued that the document is protected under copyright, though they don’t have to deliver a proof of copyright–the legal wrangling is continuing, and the document remains live for now.
So what exactly were Yahoo’s motives? It sets them out itself in its objection letter to a different attempt to make the company reveal its policies: The data will “‘shame’ Yahoo! and other companies” and also “shock” their customers. Hmmm. So Yahoo doesn’t want the public to know how, exactly, its mechanisms for protecting that same public work? That’s a pretty thin excuse, and makes you wonder exactly how many thousands (or millions, perhaps) of law enforcement requests are rolling in to Amazon at between $20 and $80 in “admin fees” per go.