According to a report by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Google allows various third-party app developers to sift through its users Gmail messages under the guise of offering users better products and services.
CEO of Edison Software, a Google developer, Mikael Berner said that it was common practice for employees to read the inboxes of hundreds of Gmail users in order to build a new feature. The report further states that not only can the companies developing products and services read users private emails, it also includes all their employees too.
The companies that had spokespeople quoted in the article claim that all their employees must adhere to strict guidelines when checking user data, and while there are no signs of misuse amongst other developers, the potential is certainly there.
Considering Gmail has 1.4 billion users, that is a vast pool of private data that is out for sale.
While several app developers have termed this a "common practice" where humans access user data to develop machine algorithms, Google is yet to ensure that user data will not be compromised in a Facebook-Cambridge Analytica manner.
These IT employees are permitted to use systems or even other workers to read user emails.
Last year, Google had assured that it would stop scanning the inboxes of Gmail users for information that helps it offer personalised advertisements, announcements, shopping and travel deals etc.
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 Corp. or Yahoo email address. Its computers analyze about 100 million emails a day, while employees reading as much as 8,000 unredacted emails at one point.
Google said only companies that had been vetted could access messages, and only if users had "explicitly granted permission to access email".
"Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret", says Mr. Loder. "It's kind of reality", he told the Journal. But thinking developers weren't going through users' emails was simply naive.
It's not news that Google and many top email providers enable outside developers to access users' inboxes.