Recent reports sent shockwaves through Gmail users around the world by telling them their privacy was compromised – and Google was responsible. The tech giant has since tried to quell fears by defending giving app developers access to users’ emails.
According to the company, the practice is OK because it is common. However, it went on to say that, if users want to keep everything private, there are tools that can be used. Whether legally right or not, the recent push of the EU to tighten controls to prevent data theft calls such practices into question.
The reality is that the Gmail accounts of many users see a great deal of personal, sensitive information coming and going. This is not unlike a bank, online casino, or other business that deals with such data – and such businesses have a responsibility to protect customers to the best of their ability. Thankfully, many such companies and institutions take security seriously – even if Google does not.
What the Reports Said
Respected publication, the Wall Street Journal, admitted it found no evidence of foul play on the part of the third-party app developers or other companies involved. However, viewed in the light of the Facebook data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, users may still have cause for concern.
The social media platform had passed on user data to developers; something that resulted in the private details of millions being sold to firms dedicated to gathering such information – and this was all done without any consent from site users. If anything, the reports cast a shadow on Google’s reputation as a trustworthy steward of sensitive information.
What Google Said
In a blog post, Google Cloud security, trust and privacy division director Suzanne Frey was adamant that users’ emails were not being read by the company. She explained that electronic messages were processed automatically, rather than by a team of people.
Frey added that the only exceptions to private mail being read is when it is at an account holder’s request and with their explicit permission, or when security issues are being investigated. This could include someone receiving abuse messages or trying to fix problematic software.
Why It’s ‘OK’
According to the director, Gmail account holders need not be the least bit concerned that computer programmes are processing their private emails. The reason is that all the information gathered is used by developers in their quest to create non-Google apps to help users get the most out of their free email accounts.
Besides, said Frey, users can always control how much access third-party app developers have to their data. She suggested account holders always check any permissions screens when downloading a new app, as well as using Google’s Security Checkup function. By doing so, they can decide whether downloading it puts them at risk or not, and they can find out if devices other than their own have logged into their Gmail accounts.
Frey also reminded users that, last year, the company said user’s emails would no longer be scanned as details that could be used for advertising. However, the only reason this was done was to try make G Suite more appealing to businesses. This is not underhanded – it is just business.
As the director said in her blog post, Gmail is monetized – the company ultimately sells a service, which is why users still see adverts in their inboxes, even if they are no longer based on the contents of emails.