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Google allowing third party app developers access to millions of gmail accounts

04 July 2018

Fresh reports have now emerged that claim Google allowed third-party app developers to read and browse through the emails of millions of Gmail users. (Gmail has more than 1 billion monthly active users.) In some cases, developers' employees had access to thousands of Gmail users' emails. Companies may reveal additional details about how data is processed but most users don't read privacy policies, terms of service, and other legal documents prior to allowing access to their data or installing applications.

People who have connected third-party apps to their accounts may have unwittingly given external developers permission to read their messages. While the WSJ found no evidence that these companies misused the data they collected, it's still a blow to user confidence, especially as companies like Google and Facebook keep saying that they're protecting your data.

The app companies say that their actions are covered by their user agreements. We suggested the very same thing a year ago after a big Google Docs phishing scam hit Google users.

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The Journal highlights two companies that it says engages in this practice.

You may need to research each individual program or service to make an educated decision. Those included Edison Software, eDataSource Inc and Return Path.

"As anyone who knows anything about software knows, humans program software - artificial intelligence comes directly from human intelligence", Return Path founder Matt Blumberg wrote, adding that the company takes "great care to limit who has access to the data, supervise all access to the data, deploying a Virtual Safety Room, where data can not leave this VSR and all data is destroyed after the work is completed".

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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.

The biggest takeaway, however, is that access is not restricted to computers accessing the data but that human employees may and do read emails as well. You did that so that you could take advantage of a particular type of app built around email, like a service that tells you when prices for specific products goes down.

"I didn't agree to have my data evaluated by Return Path, but by signing up for the service, somebody I sent an email to has opted me into it", Khatibloo said.

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Google allowing third party app developers access to millions of gmail accounts