Millions of private Gmail messages read by third parties

Wednesday, 04 Jul, 2018

Google allows third-party app developers to read its customers' Gmail emails, a new report reveals, throwing a damper on its claims that it protects its users' privacy.

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.

Google, however, has denied privacy violations, stating data is provided to vetted third-party developers only and with the users' explicit consent. According to the sources, this "revelation" is nothing new within the industry as it is standard practice for most companies.

Those of you particularly concerned about the privacy cost of using what is arguably the most popular email provider in the world may check all the third-party applications that have access to your Gmail account right here.

It's obvious what Google apps are - things like Chrome and Drive.

You can opt out of data sharing in some cases - or you can stop using the service.

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Two of its artificial-intelligence engineers signed agreements not to share anything they read, [CEO Mikael] Berner says. It is said to have allowed its employees access to "thousands" of user emails to help develop the app's Smart Reply feature.

You may need to research each individual program or service to make an educated decision. The Journal mentions two companies that have such practices in place, including Return Path, a marketing company, and Edison Software, which makes a mobile email app. At one point, the company's employees apparently used to read about 8,000 uncensored emails to help train the company's software.

Return Path posted a response to the report on its website, saying it had worked with the reporter on the story and felt they were "extremely and somewhat carelessly selective" in what information the reporter chose to include.

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. In March, Facebook acknowledged that Cambridge Analytica, a digital consultancy that had ties to the Trump presidential campaign, improperly accessed personal information on up to 87 million of the social network's users.

But it turns out that your email isn't perfectly confidential as actual humans might be reading the emails you send and receive.