Google allowing 3rd-party developers to scan your Gmail

Gmail opti-in

Gmail opti-in

The increased scrutiny follows the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the now defunct data firm accused of misusing the personal information of more than 80 million Facebook users in an attempt to sway elections. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google does little to police developers that gain access to inboxes by offering email-based services such as price comparisons or other tools.

Why would an app developer allow humans to read your emails?

The feature was finally dropped a year ago, in a move welcomed by privacy advocates, but it turns out employees of third-party app developers may well have been reading your private messages.

"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".

Now, Google only allows vetted third-parties to gain such permissions but, as per the article, the number of developers with full access to your emails may number in the hundreds.

Google was yet to comment on the report.

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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 goal of your application may lead Google to suspend your ability to access Google API Services".

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.

Letting employees read user emails has become "common practice" for companies that collect this type of data, says Thede Loder, the former chief technology officer at eDataSource Inc., a rival to Return Path.

The Journal highlights two companies that it says engages in this practice. Last year, the company promised to stop reading the emails of Gmail users in this manner but, as a report from the Wall Street Journal suggests, the company is still allowing third-party developers full access to your emails.

Google indicated that the practice was not against its policies.

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