These IT employees are permitted to use systems or even other workers to read user emails. Many of these developers simply want to offer a new email app, help you sift through your emails, or do something else you can't achieve through Gmail's core experience. The company recently rolled out new features for Gmail in a bid to make it easier for users to navigate their account and review security and privacy options.
"As anyone who knows anything about software knows, humans program software - artificial intelligence comes directly from human intelligence", Return Path founder Matt Blumberg wrote, adding that the company takes "great care to limit who has access to the data, supervise all access to the data, deploying a Virtual Safety Room, where data can not leave this VSR and all data is destroyed after the work is completed".
Ostensibly, Google only allows vetted third-party developers to request such permissions, and the intention of these companies is to use this information for targeted shopping suggestions and advertising, but the concern remains over how closely these companies are monitored once they've been granted access.
While several app developers have termed this a "common practice" where humans access user data to develop machine algorithms, Google is yet to ensure that user data will not be compromised in a Facebook-Cambridge Analytica manner. In most cases, the people who signed up for the special price-comparison deals and other programs agreed to provide access to their inboxes as part of the opt-in process. The report further states that not only can the companies developing products and services read users private emails, it also includes all their employees too.
The Journal highlights two companies that it says engages in this practice.
The issue resurfaced this week after an examination by The Wall Street Journal found that "hundreds" of outside software makers could scan your inbox through third-party Gmail apps.
The companies said they had not asked users for specific permission to read their Gmail messages, because the practice was covered by their user agreements.
It's interesting to note that, judging from The Journal's story, very little indicates that Google is doing anything different from Microsoft or other top email providers.