Mountain View search giant Google is reassuring users that no one at the company combs through private Gmail accounts, unless users have given explicit permission.
According to a July 3rd, 2018 Google blog post written by Google Cloud’s director of security, trust and privacy Suzanne Frey, “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.”
In the case of third-party app developers who build software intended to be used with Google’s proprietary email client, Frey clarified that the company goes to great lengths to vet developers before allowing them access to private Gmail content.
Frey explained that all non-Google apps are required to meet two specific criteria.
First, apps mustn’t misrepresent their identity and must be clear about the specific manner in which they use data. Second, apps must only request the specific data necessary to provide users with the requisite functions.
“We review non-Google applications to make sure they continue to meet our policies, and suspend them when we are aware they do not,” said Frey.
Frey also clarified that Google shows users a permission screen before non-Google apps are able to access any data.
Google has previously stated that it doesn’t comb through Gmail content in order to target users with ads.
Recent concerns about Gmail data privacy
Google’s latest statement about privacy comes in the wake of a Wall Street Journal story alleging that third-party app developers have access to private Gmail accounts.
According to the Wall Street Journal, third-party software developers can scan Gmail inboxes of users “who signed up for email-based services offering shopping price comparisons, automated travel-itinerary planners or other tools.”
The Wall Street Journal went on to suggest that Google does little to enforce restrictions on these apps and developers, and that employees for companies like U.S.-based email marketing firm Return Path Inc. and Edison Software, “train their computers — and, in some cases, employees — to read their users’ emails.”
The Wall Street Journal reportedly spoke with more than two dozen current and former employees of email app makers and data companies.
Memories of Facebook
Google is only the latest Silicon Valley company to come under scrutiny for handling of user data.
Menlo Park-based social networking giant Facebook came under fire in March 2018 over allegations that approximately 50 million users — including roughly 622,000 Canadians — had their private Facebook data scraped by data brokerage firm Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica was able to gain access to these Facebook profiles through a quiz application designed by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan, built back when Facebook’s platform allowed developers greater access to users’ friends data.