App developers have been reading your Gmail, and it's alarmingly common

Ruben Fields
July 3, 2018

One company told the Wall Street Journal that the practice was "common" and a "dirty secret".

To recall, Google back in 2017, said its computers will soon stop reading the emails of its Gmail users to personalise their ads.

While several app developers have termed this a "common practice" where humans access user data to develop machine algorithms, Google is yet to ensure that user data will not be compromised in a Facebook-Cambridge Analytica manner.

Last year, Google assured its users that its computers would stop scanning emails and keep the privacy and security paramount.

Third-party developers may access emails on Gmail if users give them access to the data, that's the main takeaway from a new Wall Street Journal story (which I don't link to because paywall). This is in contrast with what Google promised past year, where it said that it would stop reading its users email messages, which might be true, but it has done very little to stop other partner organisations from doing so.

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As per the report, Return Path Inc.is one of the said companies which Google allowed.

Ostensibly, Google only allows vetted third-party developers to request such permissions, and the intention of these companies is to use this information for targeted shopping suggestions and advertising, but the concern remains over how closely these companies are monitored once they've been granted access.

Google lets people connect their account to third-party email management tools, or services such as travel planning and price comparisons. Its employees examined hundreds of user emails in order to build a new feature for the app. "Any time our engineers or data scientists personally review emails in our panel (which again, is completely consistent with our policies), we take great care to limit who has access to the data, supervise all access to the data".

"It might well be mentioned in there, but it's not what you would think of as reasonable, for a human being in a third-party company to be able to read your emails".

It pointed the BBC to its developer policies, which state: "There should be no surprises for Google users: hidden features, services, or actions that are inconsistent with the marketed objective of your application may lead Google to suspend your ability to access Google API Services".

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