Yahoo's three latest changes garner grumbling, outrage and (maybe) a tiny cheer

Change, for better or worse, has been the operative word at Yahoo since Marissa Mayer took over as CEO a little over a year ago. From eliminating telecommuting to a new-look homepage to a redesigned logo, there has been no shortage of critical reactions along the way. As Yahoo gets ready to announce its quarterly earnings later today, three of its most recent changes are garnering, in respective order, grumbling, outrage and — perhaps, finally — a small cheer.

Better than nothing (grumble grumble): In a significant security upgrade, Yahoo will enable SSL encryption as a default option to all its email users in January, the Washington Post reports. SSL has been an optional setting for Yahoo Mail users since the beginning of the year.

The added layer of security will be noticeable to users by the “https” prefix in the URL. While privacy experts welcomed the move, criticism remained that Yahoo was late to the game. Google added SSL encryption as a default to to Gmail in 2010, for example, and since then it has also become the default for Microsoft’s Outlook and Facebook.

Last November, 26 groups — including the ACLU, Electronics Frontiers Foundation and Reporters Without Borders — urged Yahoo to implement SSL to protect its users’ privacy and security. Now it may be a case of too little, too late. The NSA has reportedly already broken SSL, and Google and Facebook are moving on to deeper levels of encryption.

“It is unfortunate that it has taken Yahoo four years to do what Google was able to do in 2010: deploy HTTPS encryption, for all users, by default,” Christopher Soghoian of the ACLU told the Post. “Yahoo’s glacial progress on this issue has been a gift to intelligence agencies around the world, who have been able to perform massive, dragnet-surveillance of Yahoo users’ unprotected emails.”

Update: Yahoo Mail will be improving upon SSL as well. According to a Yahoo spokesperson: “In addition to making https a default feature by January 2014 for all Yahoo Mail users, we plan to implement 2048-bit encryption keys, which will provide our users with a further layer of security.”

Outright outrage: A furor has erupted from Yahoo Mail users upset with the service’s new look.

Launched last week, the redesign gives the inbox a stripped-down look more akin to Gmail, with message threads and a cleaner design. But frustrated users have been vocal in their criticism over essential features that have been removed or hidden from plain sight, flooding Yahoo support message boards with tens of thousands of complaints. Among them: No more tabs feature, new emails are not boldfaced and the print button is missing. ZDNet reports there have also been numerous technical complaints about autosave malfunctions, SSL failure and accidental deletions of contacts and emails.

“I want my old email back,” one user posted. “Quit changing things.”

Other complaints ranged from the impassioned (“You don’t need to force this abomination on your users”) to the logical: (“There is a reason those in this forum use Yahoo and not Gmail. It is based on a difference in thinking how best to design webmail for both the casual and power user. . . . This is a major issue that determines the usability of the product.”)

While many commenters threatened to leave Yahoo Mail, it’s unclear where they would turn, since many of their posts deride Gmail and Outlook, the only other major free email services. Yahoo has yet to address the problems, ZDNet reports, other than a generic referral to its Help page.

Can we all agree this is good?: Meanwhile, Yahoo today unveiled a new look to its Flickr photo-sharing service. A more radical look was unveiled in May, again spurring many complaints, but this newest tweak appears more benign.

The redesign, which is now in beta and will be released later this year, includes larger pictures, less clutter and faster page-load speeds. “You’ll see more pixels, get a cleaner view without any elements on the top or the bottom of the screen, so that photos can really be the center point,” Flickr said in a blog post.

“Looks very nice,” one commenter said.

At this rate, Yahoo may settle for that as a ringing endorsement.




Mike Murphy Mike Murphy (382 Posts)

Mike Murphy is a web producer at the Mercury News, and also writes for Good Morning Silicon Valley and 60-Second Business Break.