Today I got a slap in the face for not being more scrupulous about third-party services and Terms of Service Agreements. I don’t have any recourse, so all I can do at this point is share my experience and hope others learn from my lesson.
First, a bit of background.
I haven’t previously posted about this, since I wasn’t sure how public I wanted to be about it, but I started up a pen-name for some side projects. I had the notion in my head that I could write paranormal romance, so I created Angela Spencer. I decided to go for it when I entered a short story contest through All Romance eBooks. I was a finalist, had my story collected into a free anthology, and that was really all the benefit I got out of it.
Since I was diving in earlier than planned with this contest, I decided to go full tilt. So I created a site for Angela, and hired a friend do an illustration of Angela. I did National Novel Writing Month as Angela instead of myself one year. For research, I started reading paranormal romance and struck on the idea of writing reviews of these books. I knew other people who made a bit of extra cash writing for Associated Content, and it was the only site like that to allow pen names. So I did that. I figured I might make a couple bucks, could establish a bit of a marketing platform for Angela, and get her name out there a little bit. On top of that I ended up writing reviews for a couple other locations.
Associated Content was bought out by Yahoo! They changed it to Yahoo! Voices/Yahoo! Contributor Network. They required all users to make a Yahoo! account.
In the end, I ended up shelving Angela. I have a hard time maintaining one writer “career” on top of a full time job, let alone two. And I had some serious discouragement early on. Since I had significantly more I wanted to do as Jeremy than as Angela, I just let the whole thing slide. I think it’s telling that the last time I posted something for Angela was right before Mad Scientist Journal started up.
Prompted by a question someone asked me, I decided to see how my Yahoo! Content was doing, since I hadn’t looked into it for a long while. I had a nasty surprise. After logging in as Angela, I had this note waiting for me.
Your Yahoo! account has been de-activated
Your Yahoo! account has been inactive for an extended period of time and is being recycled. If you need a new account, please sign up for a new one.
Well, crap. So after some ridiculous effort, because Yahoo! doesn’t want you talking to living people. I finally sent them a message that read,
My account, angelatspencer, will not let me in because I’ve been “recycled” for idleness. But the content I have on Yahoo! Voices is still up and I cannot recreate my account.
I received a reply fairly quickly, especially when you consider that I had sent it on a Saturday. Once you got rid of all the headers and footers of the thing, their reply was:
Thank you for contacting Yahoo! Customer Care.
Reasons your account may have been deactivated
- Deleted from within the account.
-This would require entry of a valid password.
- Removed due to inactivity.
-Accounts must be signed into at least once every 12 months to prevent deletion.
- A violation of the Terms of Service.
-For complete information on our policies, review the full Terms of Service.
Once an account has been deactivated, it’s impossible for Yahoo! to retrieve any stored information. You are always welcome to sign up for a new Yahoo! account.
Thank you again for contacting Yahoo! Accounts Services.
Yahoo! Customer Care
So, this was very concerning. And not because someone claimed their name was “Seed Sundae.” In the footer of their email, it said, “We will assume your issue has been resolved if we do not hear from you within 72 hours.” But there was no clear way to respond. No link to file a response or anything. Usually these sorts of automated emails don’t allow you to reply to them. So I wrote back, hoping for the best.
If I cannot reactivate my account, then how can I access my Yahoo! Voices content? It is still up, it is presumably still generating revenue, but now you have blocked me from accessing it.
After two days I got no response, and I couldn’t find my way back through the false hopes of their “Contact Customer Care” link. (Which should really say, “Click her to be redirected to other parts of our Help menu while we pretend to help you contact Customer Care.”) On the Yahoo! Content site, there was a much more clear way to get in touch with a human. So I sent another message through there.
Hi there, My Yahoo! ID was recycled due to inactivity, which means I can no longer access any of my articles or write anything new. I tried contacting Yahoo! Customer Care, but was told that they couldn’t reactivate it. I tried reiterating my problem with the connection between my Yahoo! account and my Yahoo! Content profile, but received no further response. My incident was 130818-011508. Please, can you help?
Welcome to The Gong Show.
- If you wish, we can add a “pen name” to your account to disassociate you from your profile and content. If you would like us to do that, reply to this email with your preferred “pen name,” and we will be happy to make that change.
So, first off, I don’t think I’m going to be friends with Kyle. He’s not very helpful. Second, I was pretty flabbergasted. I tried not to blow up on him, because I know how much it sucks to be in customer service and having to support an unpopular policy. So I tried to provide an even-tempered but clearly unhappy response with, “This is an utterly unrealistic option. This must come up regularly, and this is the best answer you can come up with?”
I don’t know why I chose the word “unrealistic.” I think it was the most polite word I could come up with to substitute for “fucking ridiculous.” After sending that email, I glanced more closely at the Terms of Service link Kyle provided. And, yeah. Long story short, Yahoo! has a very wordy explanation of “we can do whatever we want, for no reason, and you can just live with it.” They now own the content on their site, have no obligation to remove it or pay me for it. Not that I’m probably generating any noteworthy money off of it. But it was still a rude awakening.
Unsurprisingly, my mild outrage did not crack Kyle’s flinty heart.
Thanks for spending the time to reach out to us again.
As indicated in our previous message, your only option at this point, should you wish to continue using Yahoo! Contributor Network, is to create a new account. We are not able to make exceptions for this policy. Again, should you wish, we can change the Pen Name listed in your old account to disassociate you from it.
If you have any other issues, definitely let me know.
Yahoo! Customer Care
So, the best opportunity I’ve been offered is the chance to change the pen name so that the story will no longer be associated with Angela Spencer. Which is pretty ridiculous, since most of these articles were cross-posted all over the place as Angela. I didn’t give them exclusive rights, and some were explicitly reprints. I emailed them back and asked if her profile picture could at least be removed, and they did that.
I don’t have any options at this point. My main hope in getting the account reactivated was for a mythic time when I was able to try and build Angela up again. But I have no immediate plans, and I will probably never use Yahoo! for anything in the future if I do bring Angela back. I even kind of understand their policy. It’s a vast web content provider, and it is a huge logistical cost for them to their thousands and thousands (possibly millions?) of account holders. The outrage of one person with only a small handful of obscure articles on their site really has no meaning.
What I can do is share my experience, so that others can learn from my mistakes. I will not say to anyone, “Don’t work with Yahoo!” But I will certainly advise people to understand what they are getting themselves into with monolithic companies like this.