If you thought Facebook was the devil with the scattering of our data we have a nice one for you. According to the WSJ Google – unlike what they have said publicly – lets different software makers ‘scan’ the inboxes of our Gmail addresses. Some app developers may read the emails to develop new app features or services. Most of that reading is done by software, but in some cases there are just people whose job is to read the mails.
Mischievous scanning the norm
You could say that it was to be expected that Google would give developers access to our inboxes. Gmail is not free for nothing: you pay with your data. It’s just a little irritating because last year Google insisted that they stop these practices. It was then said by Google that ads would be based on user settings, so that our mails no longer had to be scanned. Then they conveniently forgot to say that the scanning would continue for the benefit of app-makers. Google says that its own employees almost never read e-mails, and then only if permission is given and there is a need. Why should those same rules not apply to the data companies and app makers?
The worst thing is that Google is not even alone in these practices. Microsoft and Verizon’s Oath Communications also do it, but the difference is that users must explicitly give permission to allow scanning. What seems? The scanning of emails is standard in the industry. It is one of the best kept secrets so far, but it appears to be everywhere, according to interviews with more than 25 people working in the app and data industry.
Now that it is a well-known story, we can see if Google is going to do something with it, but in the end they do not do anything illegal: we all agreed when we approved the user agreement unread when signing up. Not only with Gmail itself: the apps that have wriggled in your inbox have also asked you for permission, but in many cases in the same (unread) terms and conditions.