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.