Tech's 'dirty secret': App developers are sifting through your Gmail

04 July, 2018, 00:50 | Author: Julian Harrison
  • Software Developers are Scanning the Inboxes of Gmail Users

There's no doubt that some of the actions described, such as having employees read users' emails to train machine learning algorithms, are cause for alarm.

Google "continues to let hundreds of outside software developers scan the inboxes of millions of Gmail users who signed up for email-based services offering shopping price comparisons, automated travel-itinerary planners or other tools", the report stated.

Gmail allows its users to install additional apps that work with the online system.

"Email data collectors use software to scan millions of messages a day, looking for clues about consumers that they can sell to marketers, hedge funds and other businesses", the report added, saying data miners generally have access to other email services besides Gmail. Some companies may request access to "read, send, delete, and manage your email" which gives them full access to emails on Gmail.

"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".




Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., says it provides data only to outside developers it has vetted and to whom users have explicitly granted permission to access email. Google declined to comment. 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.

CEO of Edison Software, a Google developer, Mikael Berner said that it was common practice for employees to read the inboxes of hundreds of Gmail users in order to build a new feature.

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. Consumers' reaction is becoming a major challenge for tech companies as they face lawmakers, lawsuits and the threat of regulation over data policies they say they've been telling us about all along.

It's interesting to note that, judging from The Journal's story, very little indicates that Google is doing anything different from Microsoft or other top email providers.

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