Trends with benefits

Think that Gmail email you sent about your family secret or your wife’s confidential medical condition was private? Think again.

July 3, 2018 - Email Privacy - , , ,

Google says they’ve finally stopped scanning the inboxes of Gmail users to personalize ads, but be aware that they still let outside software developers – hundreds of them –look at what you’re sending. If you’ve signed up for an email-based price comparison service, for instance a travel or hotel cost comparison, be aware that your emails can be scanned by the software companies that provide the service.

Facebook used to let these outside developers access its data until that fact blew up the news cycle, and they put a stop to it. Douglas MacMillan, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, says that Facebook has taken the hits for developer misuse of user data, but now Gmail users are exposed to similar risks. Google has HELPED hundreds of outside app developers gain access to the sensitive personal data contained in emails.

The developers train both their computers and employees to “read” Gmail emails, up to 100 million emails a day. One of those companies is Return Path, Inc. which collects data for marketers by scanning the inboxes of more than two million people who have signed up for one of the free apps in Return Path’s partner network using a Gmail, Microsoft or Yahoo email address. Computers do the scanning, but at one point two years ago, Return Path employees read about 8,000 unredacted emails to help train the company’s software.

Google says it only allows outside developers it has vetted or those that Gmail users have granted permission to access their mails. Google employees read emails “only 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,” the company told the WSJ in a written statement.  We PR types are onto the written statement strategy, which mostly means you want to avoid further interview questions at all costs.

In the current landscape of heightened awareness and collective concern about privacy issues, Big Tech needs to do better than this. Close the loopholes. Require stringent opt-in permissions by email users before these companies can peek inside our lives.

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