Some Third-Party Email Apps Let Employees Read User Emails

Some third-party email providers that work with services like Gmail are letting their employees read customer emails to create new and optimized software tools, according to an article warning about third-party email apps and services published today by The Wall Street Journal.

Return Path, a service for email marketers that has 163 app partners, two years ago allowed its employees to read approximately 8,000 full customer emails to train the company's software.

edisonmail
Similarly, Edison Software, a company that makes the Edison Mail app for iOS, had employees read the emails of hundreds of users to craft a new "smart replies" feature.

According to The Wall Street Journal, neither company asked users for specific permission to read their emails, but have said the practice is covered in their user agreements. Employees who read the emails were governed by "strict protocols," and in Edison's case, user information was redacted.

Edison, Return Path, and other third-party email services also use computer scanning to analyze emails, a common practice. For its article, The Wall Street Journal interviewed over two dozen current and former employees from email and data companies.

Google no longer scans the inboxes of Gmail users itself as of last year for privacy reasons, but it continues to allow third-party software developers to do so. Other email services, like Yahoo and Microsoft, are similarly impacted, providing access with user consent.

Return Path, Edison, and other developers of apps that work with Gmail and similar email services don't appear to have misused customer information, but many customers are likely to be concerned about the fact that employees at some email companies are reading their emails. Many customers are also likely unaware they're consenting to such practices when signing up for a third-party email app.

In a written statement, Google said that it provides data to outside developers who have been vetted and who have been granted permission by users to access their email. Google says its own employees read emails only in "very specific cases where you ask us to and give consent, or where we need to for security purposes, such as investigating a bug or abuse."

As The Wall Street Journal points out, customers should be wary of email apps because Google does not have strong consumer protections in place when it comes to email. It's a simple process to build an app that connects to Gmail accounts, and with permission to access the Gmail inbox granted, a developer can see the entire contents of the inbox. It's not just large corporations that are able to get to this data - Google also gives permission to one-person startups, and data privacy protections can vary.

Customers concerned with how their emails are handled by third-party apps should stick with first-party apps such as Gmail or Inbox by Gmail for Gmail users and/or take a close look at the app's privacy policies and ask further questions about data usage.

Top Rated Comments

826317 Avatar
76 months ago
This is why I switched back to Apple's own Mail application..
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
reden Avatar
76 months ago
This is real scary and completely irresponsible for Google to allow this.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macduke Avatar
76 months ago
I'm honestly surprised this isn't exploited more. Consumers are dumb and will grant access to anything.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jclo Avatar
76 months ago
Thanks for the article, Juli.
Welcome. I don't want to fear monger or defame good email apps who are using this data for legitimate feature purposes like Edison seems to be doing, but read privacy policies and approach all apps like this that potentially have access to swathes of data with caution. Ask questions. Demand answers.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
CrystalQuest76 Avatar
76 months ago
When I was a child I was taught the following:
"Things and services that are free, often come with the highest cost."
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
techpr Avatar
76 months ago
This is WHY my primary email is on protonmail.com
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

apple tv 4k yellow bg feature

When to Expect a New Apple TV to Launch

Tuesday April 9, 2024 8:30 am PDT by
It has been nearly a year and a half since the current Apple TV was released, so the device is becoming due for a hardware upgrade. Below, we recap rumors about the next Apple TV, including potential features and launch timing. The current model is the third-generation Apple TV 4K, announced in October 2022. Key new features compared to the previous model from 2021 include a faster A15...
iPhone 16 Camera Lozenge 2 Colors

iPhone 16 Plus Rumored to Come in These 7 Colors

Wednesday April 10, 2024 3:52 am PDT by
Apple's iPhone 16 Plus may come in seven colors that either build upon the existing five colors in the standard iPhone 15 lineup or recast them in a new finish, based on a new rumor out of China. According to the Weibo-based leaker Fixed focus digital, Apple's upcoming larger 6.7-inch iPhone 16 Plus model will come in the following colors, compared to the colors currently available for the...
iPhone 16 Pro Sizes Feature

Alleged iPhone 16 Battery Details Show Smaller Capacity for One Model

Tuesday April 9, 2024 3:46 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone 16 lineup will feature bigger battery capacities compared to previous-generation models with the exception of the iPhone 16 Plus, which will have a smaller battery than its predecessor. That's according to the Chinese Weibo-based leaker OvO Baby Sauce OvO, a relatively new source of supply chain leaks with an as-yet unproven track record for accuracy. The iPhone 16 ...
apple silicon feature joeblue

Macs to Get AI-Focused M4 Chips Starting in Late 2024

Thursday April 11, 2024 10:10 am PDT by
Apple will begin updating its Mac lineup with M4 chips in late 2024, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. The M4 chip will be focused on improving performance for artificial intelligence capabilities. Last year, Apple introduced the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips all at once in October, so it's possible we could see the M4 lineup come during the same time frame. Gurman says that the entire...
M3 iPad Feature 3

Apple Event for New iPads Still Considered 'Unlikely' Following Delays

Tuesday April 9, 2024 6:37 am PDT by
Apple is "unlikely" to hold an event to announce new iPad Pro and iPad Air models, according to sources cited by Taiwanese supply chain publication DigiTimes. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman already said Apple was not planning to hold an event for the new iPads, but he made this claim back in early March, before it was reported that the devices were postponed due to manufacturing delays. With the...
iOS 18 WWDC 24 Feature 2

iOS 18 May Feature All-New 'Safari Browsing Assistant'

Wednesday April 10, 2024 6:11 am PDT by
iOS 18 will apparently feature a new Safari browsing assistant, according to backend code on Apple's servers discovered by Nicolás Álvarez. MacRumors contributor Aaron Perris confirmed that the code exists, but not many details are known at this time. Álvarez said it seems like the browsing assistant will use iCloud Private Relay's infrastructure to send relevant data to Apple in a...