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Yahoo accused of forcing users to stay by disabling email forwarding

In this Nov. 5, 2014, file photo a person walks in front of a Yahoo sign at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.
In this Nov. 5, 2014, file photo a person walks in front of a Yahoo sign at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

As Yahoo’s embattled email service suffers through a slew of bad news, including a hack that compromised more than 500 million accounts, some users are finding it hard to leave.

Automatic email forwarding was disabled at the beginning of the month, several users told The Associated Press. While those who’ve 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.

READ MORE: Yahoo scanned customers’ emails for US intelligence officials

“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. initially declined to comment on the recent change beyond pointing to a three-line notice on Yahoo’s help site which says that that the company temporarily disabled the feature “while we work to improve it.”

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After the AP published this story, the company issued a statement saying Yahoo was working on getting automatic forwarding “back up and running as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, the company said it continued to support other options such as multiple account management , which allows users to juggle several email services at once.

READ MORE: Here’s what you need to know about the Yahoo hack

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.

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“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. First, the company revealed in September that hackers stole the personal information of roughly a half billion people, a record-breaking theft that appeared to have gone undiscovered for some two years. More recent revelations concern reports that Yahoo opened its users’ emails to government surveillance .

READ MORE: Yahoo email scanning – Apple, Google, Microsoft say they’d fight similar requests in court

Although it’s unclear whether either issue will lead to a real exodus from Yahoo, several people told AP 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. “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 which provides her new address and reads in part: “Following recent data and privacy breaches, I will be discontinuing use of Yahoo Mail.”

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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 located in Canada Lake, New York, would have to delay a client’s planned transition to a Microsoft email provider. Danner said Yahoo’s decision to suddenly 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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