Gmail messages read by human third parties

Pauline Obrien
July 4, 2018

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.

For those who might be concerned about this discovery, you can go to your Google Account's main page, head to the Sign-in & Security section and select "Apps with account access".

Google, however, has denied privacy violations, stating data is provided to vetted third-party developers only and with the users' explicit consent.

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Last year, Google had assured that it would stop scanning the inboxes of Gmail users for information that helps it offer personalised advertisements, announcements, shopping and travel deals etc.

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.

The biggest takeaway, however, is that access is not restricted to computers accessing the data but that human employees may and do read emails as well.

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While these kind of apps do ask for user consent, numerous forms don't make it explicitly clear that a human will be reading through your emails, not just a machine. Then, working on machines that prevented them from downloading information to other devices, they read the personal email messages of hundreds of users-with user information already redacted-along with the system's suggested replies, manually indicating whether each made sense.

The revelation could not have come at a worse time as, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, software companies are taking extra steps to protect data privacy of its users. Although most of the work is still done by computers, in one case, a company called "Return Path" allowed some 8,000 emails to be read, unaltered, by its employees.

You may need to research each individual program or service to make an educated decision.

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However it isn't as nefarious as you might think as these scans were conducted using apps that users would have had to give permission to. Google also defends the practice by saying it gets permission from users before allowing third-party applications to connect to an account.

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