Google de­fends pol­icy af­ter re­port of app de­vel­op­ers read­ing Gmail users’ emails

The Mercury News Weekend - - BUSINESS - By Levi Su­ma­gaysay lsuma­gaysay@ba­yare­anews­group.com

An­other day, an­other pri­vacy ques­tion: Who reads your Gmail? Google’s an­swer is, it de­pends. The com­pany went on the de­fen­sive this week af­ter a re­port re­vealed in­stances in which hu­man em­ploy­ees of third- party app de­vel­op­ers sifted through Gmail users’ emails.

“No one at Google reads your Gmail, ex­cept in very spe­cific cases where you ask us to and give con­sent, or where we need to for se­cu­rity pur­poses, such as in­ves­ti­gat­ing a bug or abuse,” Suzanne Frey, di­rec­tor of se­cu­rity, trust and pri­vacy for Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post Tues­day.

But Gmail users who give apps ac­cess to their emails do so at their own risk.

In her blog post, Frey said third-party app de­vel­op­ers go through both au­to­mated and man­ual re­views. The com­pany re­quires ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion by de­vel­op­ers about what their apps do, and must re­quest only rel­e­vant data.

Still, “we strongly en­cour­age you to re­view the per­mis­sions screen be­fore grant­ing ac­cess to any non- Google ap­pli­ca­tion,” she wrote.

TheWall Street Jour­nal re­port showed that hu­man re­view­ers for two app de­vel­op­ers, New York-based Re­turn Path and San Jose­based Edi­son Soft­ware, read Gmail users’ per­sonal emails for a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent rea­sons: email mar­keter Re­turn Path be­cause it needed to train its soft­ware, and email soft­ware maker Edi­son for a new fea­ture. Both com­pa­nies told the Jour­nal they be­lieved their pri­vacy poli­cies and user agree­ments al­lowed them to do so, although the news­pa­per noted that nei­ther com­pany’s pri­vacy pol­icy “men­tions the pos­si­bil­ity of hu­mans view­ing users’ emails.”

Google said Thurs­day it has no ad­di­tional com­ment.

The Gmail ques­tions come in the af­ter­math of Face­book’s Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal, which high­lighted the ac­cess that third-party app de­vel­op­ers have to Face­book users’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. In that case, the po­lit­i­cal data firm ac­cessed the in­for­ma­tion of up to 87 mil­lion users of the so­cial net­work with­out their per­mis­sion af­ter buy­ing the data from a Cam­bridge Univer­sity re­searcher. Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg later told news site Vox that the com­pany can “stop mes­sages from go­ing through,” and the com­pany con­firmed to Bloomberg that it can scan through Mes­sen­ger users’ mes­sages au­to­mat­i­cally to look for “abu­sive be­hav­ior.”

Gmail has faced pri­vacy ques­tions since its in­cep­tion in 2004 be­cause its ver­sion for per­sonal use shows ads. In her blog post, Frey said: “We do not process email con­tent to serve ads, and we are not com­pen­sated by de­vel­op­ers for API ac­cess.”

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