App developers have been reading your Gmail, and it's alarmingly common

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Privacy matters Google may have promised to stop scanning the inboxes of Gmail users for ad-targeting purposes past year, but it still lets third-party app developers read your private messages. Gmail has almost 1.4 billion users globally - more users than the next 25 largest email providers combined.

Not only are emails scanned by automated systems but the employees of these companies are said to collectively read millions of emails, according to executives quoted in the report.

Google is allowing app developers to sift through your Gmail account. Some allow people to write emails in special fonts, or to make it easier to find images to send to others, while others make it easier for people to organise their emails into folders. "Our email app was mentioned in the context of our engineers having in the past the ability to read a small random sample of de-identified messages for R&D purposes".

It pointed the BBC to its developer policies, which state: "There should be no surprises for Google users: hidden features, services, or actions that are inconsistent with the marketed objective of your application may lead Google to suspend your ability to access Google API Services".

Google says it vets all the apps that request access to Gmail accounts and only grants access with the explicit consent of users. Developers swear that manual access is used only оn rare and special occasions and is exclusively to improve customer experience, but we've heard that reasoning enough times to know it's just something PR representatives are forced to say.

"It is not reasonable, practical or efficient to expect users to know how third-party companies will make use of their personal data", Rotenberg said.

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It's obvious what Google apps are - things like Chrome and Drive.

Fatemeh Khatibloo, and analyst at Forrester, said tech companies need to make clear to users what the tradeoff is for receiving services for free.

You can opt out of data sharing in some cases - or you can stop using the service. Those included Edison Software, eDataSource Inc and Return Path. At one point about two years ago, Return Path employees read about 8,000 unredacted emails to help train the company's software, people familiar with the episode say.

Return Path posted a response to the report on its website, saying it had worked with the reporter on the story and felt they were "extremely and somewhat carelessly selective" in what information the reporter chose to include.

Google has not yet commented on the issue.

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