FC: Did Yahoo pull the plug on an Oakland peace activist group?

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Mon Sep 09 2002 - 21:54:58 PDT

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    A few thoughts:
    1. It is highly unlikely -- to the point of being an absurd allegation to 
    make -- that Yahoo Groups is "censoring" a peace group because of its stand 
    on international politics. Yahoo currently lists 899 groups in the "peace" 
    category of Yahoo Groups; certainly no purge has taken place:
    2. It is far more likely that LMNOP has been accused of spamming, there's a 
    misunderstanding, or something is going on that we don't know about.
    3. I don't believe "censorship" is the best word to use here. I generally 
    use the word to describe what governments do; this is at best a contractual 
    dispute over a terms of service agreement.
    4. It would be helpful for Yahoo to clarify.
    5. I'd never trust a free email service with important mail. Better to get 
    a shell account or POP account and pay for it; you'll be taken more 
    seriously if you have a problem.
    Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2002 19:51:45 -0700
    To: Declan McCullagh <declanat_private>
    From: [deleted]
    Subject: Yahoo! censors LMNOP, an Oakland peace group (Fwd)
    Thought this might interest you.
    P.S. Please don't include my name and/or email in any public posting.
     >Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002 11:30:59 -0700 (PDT)
     >From:  "Steve Wagner" <bayiparalegalat_private>
     >Subject: Yahoo! censors LMNOP, an Oakland peace group
     >To: nlg-interactat_private
     >Yahoo! censors LMNOP, an Oakland peace group
     >My wife & I have been active in Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for 
    Peace, an Oakland antiwar group, since it started during the Gulf War in 
    1991. (For a history of LMNOP & more information about the group see 
     >Three years ago we got an email address for the group, lmno4pat_private 
    This seemed like a good way to stay in touch with other groups & people. We 
    also used it to notify people of upcoming events, & other activities.
     >On August 8th, 2002, however, we found that we were no longer able to 
    access our email address at lmno4pat_private Email sent to the address was 
    returned as "Undeliverable because the account has been discontinued or 
    disabled." We had been "deactivated," the Yahoo! computer told us, "because 
    of a violation of the terms of service agreement."
     >I downloaded the Yahoo! terms of service agreement & read it again: There 
    was absolutely nothing I could find that we had done that would constitute 
    a violation of the agreement.
     >Emailed & snail-mailed inquiries to Yahoo! were simply ignored. Yahoo!'s 
    attitude appeared to be in keeping with their terms of service agreement: 
    They will provide you with an email address, but they will also block you 
    from using it & delete everything you might have stored in it whenever they 
    feel like it, for any reason or no reason at all, & there is nothing you 
    can do about it. Ignoring our inquiries simply underscored these arrogant 
     >My wife, Beth, telephoned Yahoo! at (408)349-3300 earlier this week, & 
    again yesterday. Her conversations with four different people there were 
    most revealing, even if we are still barred from getting into our account.
     >Earlier in the week Beth spoke with Laurie. Laurie is a supervisor in the 
    Yahoo! Customer Care unit. Laurie told Beth that Yahoo! did not have to 
    tell her what the alleged terms of service violation was, nor would they. 
    She also said that the decision to shut down an account is made by a human, 
    not the computer, so someone had pulled the plug - but there was nothing we 
    could do about it. Laurie also said that it is "their policy" not to give 
    their last names.
     >Yesterday Beth talked with three different people at Yahoo! The 1st was a 
    woman in Customer Care who transferred her call to Public Relations. The 
    guy in Public Relations (Brian) said that his department only deals with 
    the media, so basically there was really no reason to talk with him at all. 
    Brian wasn't sure why the Customer Care person had transferred her to him, 
    & he transferred Beth to Pablo, a supervisor in Customer Care.
     >Pablo assured Beth that lmno4pat_private had not been shut-down for 
    political reasons, but he also said that it is "their policy" not to say 
    what the actual reason was - &, most important, he said that a decision to 
    shut down an account is not made "unless a complaint has been made." This 
    confirms our suspicion that the LMNOP account WAS shut down for political 
    reasons - There was no violation of the "terms of agreement" by us, & 
    Yahoo! refuses to say what the alleged violation was, because there was none.
     >We don't think that Yahoo! pulled our plug because they think we're some 
    sort of threat to civilization as we know it. We think Yahoo! overreacted 
    to a complaint by someone who disagrees with our politics, especially our 
    public support for peace & justice in Palestine. Yahoo! figured that we are 
    simply an obscure local group in Oakland, so they could treat us anyway 
    they wanted to. Now that we are demanding answers & questioning their 
    draconian "terms of service agreement" Yahoo! is stubbornly sticking to 
    "their policies" - i.e., once they've shut you down there is no recourse, & 
    they will not reinstate your account, nor even let you rescue any 
    information that was stored there.
     >We had over 200 names on our email list stored in the lmno4pat_private 
    account, & we had messages that we had not yet answered before Yahoo! 
    pulled our plug. We have learned the hard way to never store anything in a 
    Yahoo! account that you are not ready to have some misguided bureaucrat or 
    political zealot delete.
     >I know these are troubled times, & the problems of one small peace group 
    in Oakland are miniscule compared to what is going on in the rest of the 
    world. But it bothers me to think that a company like Yahoo! can sabotage 
    our work in such a heavy-handed way with no recourse whatsoever.
     >I tell you all this for three reasons: 1). To warn you to be careful when 
    you deal with Yahoo!; 2). To ask if anyone has any ideas how we might bring 
    Yahoo! to account for their reckless political sabotage; & 3). To see if 
    anyone else has had similar experiences with Yahoo! or any of the other 
    email service providers.
     >- Steve Wagner, Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized
     >for Peace, (510) 763-8712.  http://www.webwm.com/LMNOP 
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