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Google's 'Dirty Secret' Allows Third Party Apps To Read Gmail Messages

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In spite of all of the data breaches in 2018 across large platforms, another major internet service has been caught doing the same thing.

What Did Google Do?

Reports say that Google allowed third-party app and software developers to access the inboxes of millions of Gmail accounts. This news comes just one year after Google pledged to protect user's privacy and prohibit email scanning.

The report, originally published by the Wall Street Journal, says that both computer scanners and human employees at third-party developers were allowed to read Gmail messages. Two firms — Edison Software and eDataSource Inc — reviewed a combination of hundreds of emails to improve their software.

The developers received access to the Gmail accounts when users signed up for an email-based app that had a consent form. Users are required to agree to the consent form in order to access different apps or tools from a Google account. This agreement typically includes giving access to read emails. However, the report indicates that many consent agreements do not specifically state that people will be reading their private emails. That means that there could be many users who have their data compromised without realizing it. Gmail is the most popular email service in the world, with over 1 billion monthly users.

The Industry's Take On Google

What was interesting about the report was that this practice of allowing third-party developers to read messages is actually common across other email providers. One company in the report called it a "dirty secret" in the industry. However, one security expert was surprised that Google permitted this practice.

Google Responds To The Report

Google responded to the report by stating that it only grants this permission to developers who have been vetted. Google routinely checks to see if the third-party developer is reputable and if the additional data makes sense for that company. An example would include an email app getting permission to access Gmail accounts. Gmail users are required to consent to this process. Google also denies access to other developers who have requested it. Additionally, Google employees will occasionally read Gmail messages from time to time.

"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," Google said.

Users who are concerned about their privacy can disable access for specific third-party apps by going to going to their permissions folder, clicking on an app, and clicking on "remove access."

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