Yahoo Appeals to Its Own Vanity

yahoo logo 600 Yahoo Appeals to Its Own Vanity

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Yahoo! and its recycled ID plan.

Everything old is new again at internet giant Yahoo! Silicon Valley’s wannabe comeback kid announced plans to recycle unused account IDs to free them up for new users – a bone-toss to any user saddled with alphanumeric mouthful like johndsmith12345. “If you’re like me, you want a Yahoo ID that’s short, sweet, and memorable,” Jay Rossiter, Yahoo’s SVP for Platforms, announced on the company’s Tumblr blog.

Not everyone loved the news. Hackerphobes quickly raised concerns that recycling IDs could expose users to identity theft and other security threats. Traditionally account IDs are almost never recycled for fear that hackers can use them to gain access to other, still active accounts. A writer for Wired Magazine who has chronicled his personal experience with a crippling hacker attack called Yahoo’s plan “a spectacularly bad idea.”

Yahoo on the other hand, seeking to inject new enthusiasm into its brand and still fighting a “Your Father’s Internet” reputation,  promised that appropriate security safeguards were in place. But embarrassingly , when pressed, it couldn’t assert that the plan was hacker-proof. Yahoo is now left wiping spam off its corporate face.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Yahoo’s questionable plan and hedgy commitment to user security.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Prepare for the obvious. Coming as it did amid revelations of Internet spying by the government, Yahoo’s pitch to new users seems particularly poorly timed and bound to raise tough questions. Not even a PR magician could salvage what appears to be an ill-conceived, poorly-vetted plan. Besides the legitimate security issues, recycling user IDs seems slightly gimmicky. In the end Yahoo couldn’t vouchsafe on questions of security. The result? Yahoo looked desperate to make a splash and walked straight into a PR blunder.

Wall Street Journal’s Cowardly Response

 Wall Street Journals Cowardly Response

The PR Verdict: "D" for the Wall Street Journal.

Is that as racy as love letters get?  E-mail correspondence between Brett McGurk, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and his then-paramour Gina Chon, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has members of Congress very excited. For the rest of us it’s hard to see what the fuss is about.

The e-mails, dating from 2008, were posted anonymously this week on Flickr–bad timing for McGurk, a top adviser on Iraq who is currently going though congressional approval for the job of US ambassador. Congressional members are concerned that while McGurk was working on tough negotiations with Iraqis, his future wife Chon covered the talks for the WSJ. Could he have leaked to her classified information?  If so, they’ll have to try to stay awake while reviewing e-mails such as McGurk’s “I had a very good day with the Iraqis–the best yet. Can’t tell you about it of course. But you should definitely stay past Sunday.” Chon’s reply: “Stop being such a tease!”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland breezily washed her hands of the issue, telling CNN, “I’m not going to get into e-mails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife.” The WSJ had a more cowardly reply to CNN,  “We are looking into the matter.”

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Wall Street Journal who could have tried harder to defend its journalist. If the State Department can sound annoyed, why can’t the WSJ?

PR Takeaway: Where’s the beef? The WSJ might have tried publicly shifting the burden of proof onto the accusers: “Which article does the committee think contains leaked information? We would be happy to look into the matter.”  Then sit back and wait for the response.  And while we are there, how about privately suggesting to members of Congress that they stop calling the emails racy? In this day of Fifty Shades of Grey, they’re hardly blush-inducing.

To read the racy letters and for more background click here.