Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, or MSN is about to start charging for its instant messaging service unless an Internet petition opposing the fee increase attracts a specified number of signatures by a named date.
Origins: Nothing impels netizens into action more quickly than a threat to their free services, as this hugely popular leg-pull proves!
As the ubiquitous "free money and merchandise for forwarding e-mail" hoax has demonstrated time and again, no Internet-based commercial jape is so absurd but that it can't be revived by simply changing the company name and a few other
The AOL version of this hoax began appearing in inboxes during the summer of 1998. In June 1999 it was reprised by hoaxsters who had twiddled with the number of signatures required and the date action had to be taken by. Same leg-pull though; just new numbers. This same basic message is periodically updated with new deadlines and set loose to throw a scare into AOLers anew.
2001 saw the hoax directed at new targets as well as at AOL (which continues to have this rumor kited about it). These latest incarnations claim MSN or Yahoo! are about to impose a set fee per month for their heretofore free MSN Messenger or Yahoo! Messenger services unless petitions festooned with a specified number of "signatures" reach them by a named date. It's the same hoax, just different companies and services named. And there's still nothing to it.
Yahoo! states on its site:
Recently, some Yahoo! members have reported receiving either an email or an instant message that claims to be from Yahoo! and instructs the recipient to forward the message on to everyone in their address book or on their Friend List. The message falsely states that Yahoo! has run out of resources and will be closing the accounts of anyone who does not forward the message.Real-time messaging was and continues to be a key component of AOL's success; start laying in additional charges for this service, and subscribers may well go elsewhere. Likewise, MSN and Yahoo! would be risking their market shares if they were to begin charging for what is freely available elsewhere. Other companies also bundle instant messaging capability into their basic service packages, and if AOL, MSN, or Yahoo! were to begin charging for a popular feature that others are providing for free, they could find themselves with an eroding subscriber base.
Please be assured that this is a hoax. There is simply no truth to this message, and your Yahoo! account will not be deleted because you do not forward the message.
If you receive such an email or instant message, the best way to deal with it is to simply delete or ignore it.
Similar phony warnings frame the same type of message about services other than instant messaging: if we don't collect enough signatures, a well-known service provider is going to start charging for a particular key feature, such as web page access. All these warnings are based on the premise that these large Internet presences have no idea their plans to saddle nearly all their users with new or extra charges will be quite unpopular, but if just a few thousand users (out of several million) complain in advance, they will see the light and rescind their proposed fee impositions or rate increases. AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! may be the butt of many Internet jokes, but they didn't get to be the huge companies they are by being that clueless.
Barbara "AOL's well that ends well" Mikkelson
Last updated: 4 January 2008
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