Google has responded to a report that it allows third party developers access to Gmail. According to the blog post, the company has a strict policy on allowing partners to read emails; adding that it only has access to data permitted by its users.
The Wall Street Journal originally reported that two apps in particular have admitted to reading emails. One being Return Path, a marketing company that analyses inboxes for marketing purposes. The company said that it looked over 8000 emails two years ago to develop its system.
Similarly, Edison Software reportedly allowed its employee to read “thousands” of emails in order to train a machine learning “Smart Reply” app.
According to Google, this could only happen with the permission from users themselves. Gmail users can easily adjust the settings themselves from the settings panel; although it is unlikely that many people are aware of this.
On the same note, Mountain View says that these sorts of apps are required to explicitly inform users that they are reading private emails. So that people are fully aware of what is going on behind the scenes. Users are also free to revoke the permissions from the apps in the event that they feel uncomfortable with the situation.
Privacy has been a big deal as of late, with internet companies coming under closer scrutiny after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. Google, for its part, has always maintained that it doesn’t read anyone’s email, and instead uses an automated system to scan for keywords (no humans are involved). However, that level of anonymisation doesn’t seem to apply to its third party developers.