Google, which earned some kudos last year for saying it would no longer scan user emails, is on the hot seat again. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that hundreds of millions of Gmail messages had been sifted through by app developers.
The developers are Return Path, a provider of email data solutions, and Edison Software. Both companies say the practice has stopped.
In 2016, Return Path employees read 8,000 user emails when developing software, the Journal reports.
And Edison, in an effort to train the app’s “Smart Reply” feature, let its employees read thousands of emails.
According to the Journal, both companies say they had consent, and that their Google agreements allowed the practice. But critics wonder if consumers were really aware of the activity.
The fact that “third-party developers -- and especially their employees -- could read people's emails may come as a surprise to people who didn't quite understand what they were signing up for or the extent that human eyes would be involved,” CNET writes.
Return Path told Email Marketing Daily that it has "first-party consent (in plain, succinct English, not in the fine print) to scan emails. Like Nielsen, Comscore, and other market research panels, we treat our end users with great respect -- they form the basis of our product! We rely on algorithms, not humans, to do so in our day-to-day operations."
Google adds that it carefully vets app developers.
Google, which has been hit with litigation over its scanning of user emails, announced in June 2017 that it would halt the practice. Some observers said it was driven by a desire to reassure its Gsuite cloud customers that their information is secure in an ever-more competitive cloud market.
The search giant says that its employees may read emails for security purposes.
In February, Edison Software announced that it would acquire Return Path’s Consumer Insights ecommerce receipt data business.
Hi Ray - just some clarifications. No one has access to anyone's email accounts unless they installed an application and had given consent to share the data. While the report only mentions Return Path, Edison and eDataSource, any developer using Gmail's API has the same level of access after the end user provides permission. The article made it seem emails were being read for fun, but in reality, emails were scanned and classified to train algorithms and remove the human intervention further down the line. These instances are also infrequent, and only done as a last resort.