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Yahoo shuts off email-forwarding feature, making it harder for users to leave

Yahoo shuts off email-forwarding feature, making it harder for users to leave
A Yahoo sign at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

As Yahoo's embattled email service suffers through a slew of bad news, some users are finding it hard to leave.

Automatic email forwarding was disabled at the beginning of the month, several users said. Although those who have set up forwarding in the past are unaffected, some who want to leave over recent hacking and surveillance revelations are struggling to switch to rival services.

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"This is all extremely suspicious timing," said Jason Danner, who runs an information technology business in Auckland, New Zealand, and is trying to quit Yahoo after 18 years with the email provider.

Yahoo Inc. declined to comment on the recent change beyond pointing to a three-line notice on Yahoo's help site that says the Sunnyvale, Calif., company temporarily disabled the feature "while we work to improve it."

Like forwarding postal mail, email forwarding makes sure users don't miss important messages as they swap one address for another. The feature has been "a basic concept for 15 years for just about every email provider out there," said Brian McIntosh, who owns a small technology business and first alerted the Associated Press to the issue.

"All of a sudden it's under development," McIntosh said in a telephone interview. "And only at Yahoo."

Yahoo's users have been hit by a one-two punch of disclosures. In September the company revealed that hackers stole personal information associated with half a billion user accounts in 2014, a theft that appears to have gone undiscovered for some two years. More recent revelations concern reports that Yahoo opened its users' emails to government surveillance.

Although it's unclear whether either issue will lead to a real exodus from Yahoo, several people said they were leaving or had already left the service because of the negative headlines.

"Being an American, I think there's a certain amount of expectation that some surveillance goes behind the scenes all the time," said Merissa Silk, an expatriate mobile product manager living in Sydney, Australia. "But providing the U.S. government unrestricted access — that really, really violates our privacy."

Silk has skipped the email forwarding, instead leaving an out-of-office message on her Yahoo account that provides her new address and reads in part: "Following recent data and privacy breaches, I will be discontinuing use of Yahoo Mail."

For those seeking more than an out-of-office message to manage their old inbox, Yahoo's decision to disable email forwarding is a source of frustration.

McIntosh said his business, which is in Canada Lake, N.Y., would have to delay a client's planned transition to a Microsoft email provider. Danner said Yahoo's sudden decision to do away with such a "basic function" left him dumbfounded.

"That all this has ceased to function when they've been getting a lot of press seems extremely dubious to me," he said in a phone call.

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