Tech’s ‘dirty secret’: App developers are sifting through your Gmail

Google is allowing app developers to sift through your Gmail account.


Google said a year ago that it would stop the computers from the scan of the inbox of Gmail users for more information for personalizing ads, say want to “remain confident that Google will keep with privacy and security paramount.”

But the internet giant continues to leave hundreds of outside the developers of the software scans the mailboxes of millions of Gmail users that have subscribed to the e-mail based services with the shop price comparisons, automated travel-route planners or other tools. Google does little to police that developers, who have their computers and, in some cases, the employees—to their users e-mails, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

One of those companies is Return Path Inc., that collects data for marketers by scanning the mailboxes 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 e-mail address. Computers do the scanning, analyzing approximately 100 million e-mails per day. At one point about two years ago, Return Path employees read approximately 8,000 unredacted e-mails in order to help in the training of the company’s software, people familiar with the episode say.

In another case, the employees of the Edison-Software, a Gmail developer that a mobile app for reading and organizing e-mail, personally reviewed the e-mails of hundreds of users to build a new function, says Mikael Berner, CEO of the company.


Allowing the employees to read e-mails from users has become “common practice” for companies that collect this kind of data, says Thede Leader, the former chief technology officer at eDataSource, Inc., a rival to Return Path. He says engineers at eDataSource occasional e-mails reviewed by the building and improvement of software algorithms.

“Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret,” said Mr. Leader. “It is a kind of reality.”

Neither Return Path nor Edison asked users specifically or the ability to read their e-mails. Both companies say the practice is covered by the user agreements, and that they have strict protocols for employees that e-mails read. eDataSource says that previously allowed employees to read e-mail data, but recently that practice, a better protection of the privacy of the user.

Google, a unit of the Alphabet Inc., says it contains only data to external developers has been approved and to whom the users explicit permission for access to e-mail. Google’s own employees reading e-mails only in very specific cases where you ask us and give consent, or where we need to for security purposes, such as to investigate a bug or abuse,” the company said in a written statement.

Click here for more from The Wall Street Journal.

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