Millions of private Gmail messages read by third parties

Software Developers are Scanning the Inboxes of Gmail Users

The third-party developers who have access to Gmail user data allegedly share them with marketers, hedge funds and other businesses.

Any of Gmail's 1.3 billion users who have connected their email addresses to apps may have unknowingly given those apps permission to read their communications.

The issue resurfaced this week after an examination by The Wall Street Journal found that "hundreds" of outside software makers could scan your inbox through third-party Gmail apps. If you want to be able to use a mail app on your computer to manage your Gmail account or your Google calendar, it needs to be able to read and delete messages or appointments.

Last year, Google said that it will keep the privacy of its users paramount and would stop its computers from scanning the inboxes of Gmail users for information to personalize advertisements. It is said to have allowed its employees access to "thousands" of user emails to help develop the app's Smart Reply feature. A Microsoft spokesperson said developers were not allowed to access customer data without consent.

It's obvious what Google apps are - things like Chrome and Drive. An executive at another company said employees' reading of emails had become "common practice".

Nearly exactly a year ago, Google promised to stop scanning your inbox to serve up ads in Gmail, but as the Journal's article details, executives of the vetted third-party companies claimed that their employees would read millions of emails and that it was "common practice".

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But you should make sure you trust the apps and developers that have such access to your accounts and that you are only giving them as much access as they need.

Those of you particularly concerned about the privacy cost of using what is arguably the most popular email provider in the world may check all the third-party applications that have access to your Gmail account right here.

One security expert said it was "surprising" that Google allowed it.

Some of these companies train software to scan the email, while others enable their workers to pore over private messages, the report says.

Although Return Path declined to comment on details of the incident, it did say it sometimes lets employees see emails when fixing problems with its algorithms.

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