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Are Gmail's App Developers Reading Your Emails?

Consumers have a hard time trusting technology right now. Between unclear data collection policies, evolving industry standards and the increasing sophistication of hackers, it's easy to understand why. But it's not necessarily technology that has sparked the concern of consumers. It's the shady developers – who try to cover up their actions with confusing language or diversion tactics – that are bearing the brunt of the fallout.

And it's not just the smaller, lesser known developers and manufacturers, either. In fact, one of the latest issues in email privacy revolves around Google – or more specifically, Gmail – and the independent app developers who use their platform as a launch pad for their own products and services.

Are Third-Party Developers Reading Your Gmail Messages?

Per a report from the Wall Street Journal, issued in July 2018, some app developers are accessing – and reading – personal emails from an unknown number of accounts. The report from the WSJ highlighted two app developers specifically: Return Path – which collects marketing data directly from Gmail inboxes – and Edison Software – an app that helps users manage and organize their Gmail inboxes.

The former, Return Path, is accused of reading approximately 8,000 different user emails in 2016. But this wasn't limited to the developers' – they apparently shared some of the emails with subordinate employees throughout all ranks of the company.

In the case of Edison Software, their employees have reportedly read thousands of personal emails to help optimize the app's Smart Reply feature. On one hand, it's a practice that helps program and refine their app to increase its overall usefulness. From a consumer standpoint, however, it's a blatant invasion of privacy.

Although both of these developers insist they've since stopped these specific data collection processes, both defended their actions in separate statements.

A recent blog post on Return Path's website says, in part: "As anyone who knows anything about software knows, humans program software – artificial intelligence comes directly from human intelligence. 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."

Edison Software's CEO, Mikael Berner, released a statement that read, in part: ''"Our email app was mentioned in the context of our engineers having in the past the ability to read a small random sample of de-identified messages for R&D purposes. This method was used to guide us in developing our Smart Reply functionality which was developed some time ago. 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."''

Avoiding Shady Third-Party App Developers

While it may be impossible to ignore all of the shady or nefarious app developers of the world, you can remain vigilant when protecting your data. For starters, check the comments section before downloading and installing any apps – even if they come from the official store. In many cases, this simple trick is enough to steer you away from malicious apps and help protect your personal information.


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