After Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, journalists are casting a critical eye on other big tech companies, and that includes Google. Previously criticized for scanning user's email for advertising, the company halted its aggressive practices, but like Facebook, it's developers aren't so restricted.
According to The Wall Street Journal, third-party apps can request the ability to read all of a user's emails. You have to agree to the permission, so it's far from a smoking gun, but it could have unintended consequences. According to WSJ, the permission lets the employees of third-party developers read emails manually.
Now, it's worth noting that Gmail isn't letting any developer view your emails. The permission is restricted to vetted companies for use in shopping suggestions and advertising. One of those companies it Return Path Inc., which collects data for marketers.
For its part, the search giant says, “if we ever run into areas where disclosures and practices are unclear, Google takes quick action with the developer.”
These companies usually have strict policies on who can read emails and for what purpose. However, sources familiar with the matter say Return Path employees scanned 8,000 emails to train its software around two years ago.
A Disturbingly Common Practice
Furter, Former CTO at eDataSource Inc. Thede Loder told Wall Street Journal that its common practice when building and improving algorithms. Such purposes are covered by the user agreements Gmail users accept without reading. Other developers concur.
With Cambridge Analytica's claims about influencing elections with advertising, such power can't be understated. It only takes a single bad actor to compromise users. However, Google is more transparent than some, offering a dashboard that lists all apps and the access they have to your accounts.
In my personal review, I found only two apps that could read by email: Windows, via its Mail app, and popular productivity tool Trello. Google lets you remove access with one button press, but for some, the damage may have already been done.