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Third-party Gmail apps let their employees read private email messages: Report

App developers defend their practice of reading email messages.

  • Published: July 3, 2018 1:41 PM IST
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Third-party app developers who build services that work with Google’s Gmail have been found letting their employees read private email messages. These apps help users find a good shopping deal or manage travel.

According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, two apps named Return Path and Edison Software, had their employees read user emails. Return Path is an app that analyzes users’ inboxes and collects data for marketers. The Journal reports that Return Path employees read 8,000 user emails two years ago to help develop the company’s software. Edison Software, the second application mentioned by the newspaper, helps users manage their email and it reportedly allowed its employees read thousands of emails to help train the application’s ‘Smart Reply’ feature. Developers of both the applications said they got consent from users and that the practice was covered in their user agreements.

It is not surprising to see third party developers get access to this kind of data. Google also asks users for specific permissions when it comes to third-party app integrations. Most services ask for user consent for the app to “Read, send, delete and manage their email.” However, the report of these third party developers allowing their employees to read people’s emails does come as a surprise.

This news comes amidst ongoing concerns of these major tech companies compromising on user privacy. Last year, Google said it would stop scanning user emails for data that help marketers target ads at users. While Google would not comment on the matter, it did confirm that outside developers seeking access to Gmail data are strictly vetted by the company. It says the process makes sure the company represents itself accurately and it has a privacy policy in place. Return Path and Edison Software both defended their practice of letting employees read user emails.

“As anyone who knows anything about software knows, humans program software – artificial intelligence comes directly from human intelligence,” Return Path said in a blog post on its website. “Any time our engineers or data scientists personally review emails in our panel (which again, is completely consistent with our policies), we take great care to limit who has access to the data, supervise all access to the data.”

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Edison defended its action and said it has stopped its practice. “We have since stopped this practice and expunged all such data in order to stay consistent with our company’s commitment to achieving the highest standards possible for ensuring privacy,” CEO Mikael Berner said in a statement.

Data Privacy has become a challenging subject since Facebook revealed that UK-based Cambridge Analytica used its algorithm to harvest user data. The social media giant confirmed that 87 million users were affected and has introduced new policy to safeguard user data.

  • Published Date: July 3, 2018 1:41 PM IST