Think your Gmail is secure? App developers are sifting through your inbox

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B3 AZ479 0629GM M 20180629191609

The Journal reports that users signing up for certain email-based services using their Gmail account are agreeing to terms and conditions which allow the developers of the service in question to read their emails.

The Wall Street Journal's Douglas MacMillan reports Google promised to stop the practice because it wanted users to "remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount". All the top tech companies are under pressure in the United States and in Europe to do more to protect user privacy and to be more transparent about any parties with access to people's data.

Google "does little to police those developers, who train their computers - and, in some cases, employees - to read their users' emails", the Journal reported. Its employees examined hundreds of user emails in order to build a new feature for the app.

Gmail has about 1.4 billion users while Microsoft and Oath, the group formed after Verizon bough Yahoo!, are the next two biggest email providers. Its computers analyze about 100 million emails a day, while employees reading as much as 8,000 unredacted emails at one point.

Although Return Path declined to comment on details of the incident, it did say it sometimes lets employees see emails when fixing problems with its algorithms. The increased scrutiny follows the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a data firm was accused of misusing the personal information of more than 80 million Facebook users in an attempt to sway elections.


It's not news that Google and most of the other top email providers enable outside developers to access the inboxes of users. This is in contrast with what Google promised previous 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.

The WSJ cited a second case, that of another Gmail developer, Edison Software, that sells a mobile application for reading and organising email.

The report said a former officer for eDataSource Inc. said that having employees read someone else's emails is "common practice" for data collectors.

Oath said access to email data was "on a case-by-case basis" and needed "express consent" from users.

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