As Yahoo Groups nears its 19th birthday, the owner of the sprawling discussion service has a large finger hovering over the delete key.
Verizon took ownership of Yahoo Groups when it bought Yahoo in 2017, but this past October the telecommunications conglomerate revealed plans to wind down much of the service before the end of the year. In response, internet archivists (mostly a loose group of volunteers and former users) say they’ve been working to preserve content from Yahoo Groups before it’s gone forever, but Verizon pulled the plug on archivists’ broader efforts this weekend—days before Yahoo Groups content is scheduled to go private, Boing Boing and Slate report.
“You just plan to toss it all in the trash, so let us in to retrieve it,” a volunteer archivist who goes by the username Nightowl wrote. “Then it will be off your hands, you won’t have to worry about it being costly to store it, and we’ll be out of your way.”
Well, Verizon seemed willing to bend when it answered “users’ requests” (and several news reports) on Tuesday. A company spokesperson told Fast Company that it “decided to extend the deadline for requesting to download data from Yahoo Groups” to Friday, January 31, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. PST. Until that date, former users of the service can go here to download the content they posted, but the tool only goes so far. Archivists want Verizon to let them save a full archive of the service, but Verizon doesn’t seem likely to budge any further.
Verizon sent us a handful of reasons for why it’s not doing more—citing its terms of service, concerns about users’ privacy, industry standards, and the strain that third-party content scrapers can put on its site. The spokesperson added that “there are business reasons for this decision.” They said, in part (emphasis ours):
“Much like Tumblr, Yahoo Groups is a platform for consumers’ content, and doesn’t align with our vision of bringing our consumers premium content from trusted sources. This is why we are no longer offering to host content on the platform. Similarly, maintaining historical material is a strain on our resources that are better spent on initiatives that drive our business forward.”
Verizon hasn’t elaborated much on why it won’t collaborate with archivists or internet historians to create an archive on its own terms. And Verizon hasn’t said why it won’t let a third party host the content elsewhere for free. But the answer is right in front of us. Verizon doesn’t care—or at least, it appears not to care—because it doesn’t have to.
Years from now, the same thing might happen to the content we create on Reddit, WordPress, Instagram, or any other platform that may shrink in prominence before it’s effectively scrapped by an acquirer. This is a cautionary tale about our corporate-owned internet. At any moment, the corporation can pull the plug. This is what happens to our stuff when its monetary potential is squeezed for all it’s worth until there’s nothing left.