As long as you’ve logged in to your Yahoo! account recently, you don’t need to worry about losing your Yahoo! email address. If you’re not certain, go log into it now, and you can “reset the clock,” so to speak.
I’m somewhat surprised that Yahoo! felt the need to make an announcement at all. I’m also surprised that some people are upset by this plan.
It’s something that many providers have been doing all along.
And it’s something that you should understand, even if you’ve never touched a Yahoo! account.
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The lifespan of a free email account
The best way to envision this is to look at the various steps an email account might go through:
- The email account is created.
- It’s used for some period of time.
- It stops being used. Quite literally, the account owner stops logging into it.
It’s at this point – when the account is no longer actively being used – that the free email providers begin to take action.
- After being completely unused for some period of time1, the account contents are removed. All email, contacts, and whatnot are deleted irrecoverably, and new messages destined for the account are discarded or rejected.
- After continuing to be completely unused for more time, the account is closed. This means that the account owner can no longer login to the account – because it’s no longer his.
- After some additional time, the account ID – typically the email address – is recycled and made available for re-use. This means that someone else could come along and open a new account, completely unrelated to the original, that uses the same email address as that original – because that original no longer exists.
It’s this last step that Yahoo! has announced as happening en masse beginning in July of this year for accounts which have not been accessed in over a year.
Account recycling is nothing new
That Yahoo! felt the need to announce this publicly makes me believe that account recycling was not already part of their standard operation.
That’s not necessarily true for other free email providers.
My understanding is that this has been standard practice for years for most of the major free email services. If you fail to login to your free account for some period of time, you will lose it and everything in it and someone else could create a new one taking your old email address.
Keeping your email account and address
If you want to make sure you don’t lose your email address to recycling, the solution is trivially simple.
Every so often (I’d say once every month or so), use the service’s web interface to login to your free email account. That alone is enough to tell the service that you’re not abandoning the account and that it should not be released or recycled.2
And yes, I’ve heard from individuals who were surprised to have lost their accounts after not logging in for several years. Sorry, but that’s just asking for trouble. If the account or email address is important at all, then take the time to login every so often.
Accounts you might forget
With the added features of some email accounts, it turns out that it’s not that far-fetched to set up an account that you actually rely on and use it daily without actually ever logging in. As we’ve seen, that is a recipe for account loss.
- Forwarding accounts: If you’ve set up a free email account and have it automatically forwarded to another email account, you really no longer need to login to that first account to use its email address. You can do everything you need via the account to which you have your email forwarded. Nonetheless, you should make sure to login to that first account every so often anyway, just to keep the account.
- POP3/IMAP: This shouldn’t be a problem. Using POP3 or IMAP to download your email from a free email account to your PC’s email program means that you never need to login to the service’s web interface. Logging in via POP3 or IMAP like this should indicate that the account is active. But if the account is important, I’d still take the extra step of logging in to the web interface every so often.
The concern about recycling
The concerns that I’ve heard raised about proactively recycling email addresses typically revolve around phishing or other forms of scams. The scenario, as best I can piece it together, looks like this:
- You have an email address that you use with online businesses or friends or family.
- You abandon that email address, intentionally or otherwise, by not logging into it for a long time.
- The email address is recycled, and someone else claims it.
- They do not have access to any of your stored email or contacts – that was all deleted before the account was recycled.
- On the other hand, if they knew or found out that you had used this email address with an online shopping account, they could request a password reset and gain control of that account and any information therein.
- They could fool your prior contacts into thinking they were you. But because they don’t have your contacts, they’d have to use some other technique to find them or otherwise leverage this.
Why is Yahoo! doing this?
In a word, competition.
The free email service arena is a highly competitive one and Yahoo! has been falling behind.
By recycling email accounts that have laid dormant for years, it’s possible that some of the “cooler” and simpler email addresses might become available and draw people looking for those email addresses to Yahoo! to get them.
Email addresses are valuable
For a variety of reasons, email addresses are valuable and abandoning one should never be done lightly.
Email addresses are often the primary means of identification for a variety of online services. Email addresses are often the way that people know to contact you and know that you are contacting them.
While so-called “throw-away” email addresses absolutely have a place, particularly when it comes to reducing the amount of spam that we might get, such addresses are intentionally created and discarded. Anything not intended to be a throw-away account needs to be maintained.
Even if all that means is logging in every so often.