A reader writes: "Dear John Naughton, As you write about the Internet, I wondered if you knew how long it takes Yahoo to get back to people. I have an iPad, but went to the library to print a document (attached to an email). Yahoo knew I wasn't on my iPad and asked me to name my favorite uncle. I replied, but Yahoo didn't like my answer, so locked me out for 12 hours. I can't get into my email account. Getting to the Help page is really difficult. Do you ever speak to anybody at Yahoo? I had to open another non-Yahoo email account, so I opened a Gmail account and it looks to have the same problem. Not easy to get in touch with anybody when things go wrong. I am sure I am not the only one who wants to discuss my problem with a human being. Yours sincerely ..."

Dear Reader: I hear (and sympathize with) your pain, but we need to get something straight. Yahoo email is ostensibly a "free" service (as indeed is Gmail). That doesn't mean that it costs you nothing, only that you don't pay cash up front for it. You do however "pay" in a different currency, namely your personal data. This is valuable to Yahoo because they can convert it into revenue; it enables them — and their commercial partners — to target advertisements and other marketing propositions at you and people like you.

I'm sure you realize this, really, because you must have signed up to their end-user licence agreement (EULA) when you opened your Yahoo email account. You may not have read it carefully before you clicked on the "Agree" button but, buried in the knee-deep legal verbiage was a clause running something like this: "Yahoo collects, stores and uses your registration data and other information about you that are subject to the Yahoo Privacy Policy that you agreed to when you applied for and received your Yahoo Mail account." (Emphasis added.)