Google Lets Third-Party App Developers Read Your Emails

Google allows third-party developers to scan or read the contents of your emails on Gmail, according to a new report.

While it’s been over a year since the Mountain View company pledged to stop scanning your inbox for ad targeting, Google still allows “hundreds of outside software developers” to scan the inboxes of millions of Gmail users, The Wall Street Journalreported.

App developers who are part of Google’s Gmail program are allowed to read emails to create new app features or services. Most often, it’s email-based platforms that offer “shopping price comparisons, automated travel-itinerary planners or other tools.”

The WSJ notes that most of these emails are scanned by computers, but adds that human employees could be reading some of them.

One of the entities scanning emails is Return Path, a firm that collects data for marketing purposes. The company scans the inboxes of more than “two million people” who are signed up for free apps developed by firms in its partner network.

And at one point a couple years ago, Return Path employees read about 8,000 unredacted emails to train the company’s computer algorithms. Return Path is just one of many data collection and marketing firms that are scanning user emails.

Thede Loder, a former executive at Return Path rival eDataSource, essentially called scanning emails a common practice. “Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret,” he told the WSJ. “It’s kind of reality.”

These firms claim that they’re doing nothing wrong, either. Technically, the practice is allowed by way of Google’s user agreement — which, it’s safe to say, users hardly ever read.

Google isn’t alone either. The WSJ indicates that Microsoft and Oath Communications also allow third-party developers to scan user emails.

For its part, Google says it vets all developers that are given access to user emails. Additionally, a spokesperson told the WSJ that “if we ever run into areas where disclosures and practices are unclear, Google takes quick action with the developer.”

If you’re concerned about people reading your emails, you can check which third-party apps have access to your Google services at this link.


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