Published: Wed, July 04, 2018
Industry | By Kenny Hampton

Third-party app developers scan through your Gmail

Third-party app developers scan through your Gmail

Google has confirmed anyone who has linked third-party apps to their accounts may have unknowingly allowed third-party developers to read their private emails.

Not only are emails scanned by automated systems but the employees of these companies are said to collectively read millions of emails, according to executives quoted in the report. Although most of the work is still done by computers, in one case, a company called "Return Path" allowed some 8,000 emails to be read, unaltered, by its employees. Some allow people to write emails in special fonts, or to make it easier to find images to send to others, while others make it easier for people to organise their emails into folders.

When Gmail first launched back in 2004, people were concerned about it because Google was scanning incoming messages in order to be able to present users with relevant, personalized adverts based on the email content. Its rules also bar app developers from making permanent copies of user data and storing them in a database. Considering Gmail has 1.4 billion users, that is a vast pool of private data that is out for sale.

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The companies that had spokespeople quoted in the article claim that all their employees must adhere to strict guidelines when checking user data, and while there are no signs of misuse amongst other developers, the potential is certainly there. No, it's not Google, this time around, but this privacy-infringing feature does affect Gmail, which happens to be the world's top email service. A huge scandal developed, however, when one developer sold data on tens of millions of users to a research firm that served political campaigns.

In Google's case, outside developers must pass a vetting process, and as part of that process, Google makes sure that they have an acceptable privacy agreement. Many of these developers simply want to offer a new email app, help you sift through your emails, or do something else you can't achieve through Gmail's core experience.

"As anyone who knows anything about software knows, humans program software - artificial intelligence comes directly from human intelligence", Return Path founder Matt Blumberg wrote, adding that the company takes "great care to limit who has access to the data, supervise all access to the data, deploying a Virtual Safety Room, where data can not leave this VSR and all data is destroyed after the work is completed". In turn, some developers say they're not aware of any oversight from Google.

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