Microsoft’s new cool Cortana personal assistant uses information from within your email to make recommendations and provide predictive suggestions. That is, unless you use Yahoo Mail. As it turns out, Microsoft is forbidden from ”reasoning” on Yahoo Mail for contractual reasons.
I’m still gathering more of the details, but Microsoft representatives told me that the prohibition is tied some Microsoft-Yahoo contract that’s old, that predates Windows Phone, but which is still in force.
Part of how Cortana operates is by reading through email on a Windows Phone device, then extracting information that may help it make predictions. Specifically, the only thing it’s extracting right now is flight information, Microsoft tells me — but more entities will be added in the future.
Google Now, Google’s predictive search tool, also operates by reading through email — but only Gmail, stored on Google’s servers. So potentially, Microsoft’s Cortana could grow into a more robust predictive tool, since it could mine Gmail emails or emails from other providers.
All that is done with the user’s permission, but the main point is that a user who wants predictive search but doesn’t use Gmail is out of luck with Google Now. That’s not so with Cortana. Gmail, Outlook, it doesn’t care — except for the caveat about Yahoo.
I suspect that Microsoft and Yahoo will likely find a way to allow for Cortana to “reason” off Yahoo Mail in the future, especially now that she’s formally been announced to the world. But we’ll see. Yahoo could continue to say no.
Postscript: I’ve heard back to Yahoo which said “The details of our contractual agreements are confidential” in response to whether things might change on the prohibition or not.