Google Goes Into Damage Control Mode Over Gmail Third-Party App Access Privacy Concerns

Are you concerned about who might be reading your emails? You should be, especially if you allow third-party app developers to access your Gmail account, as many of them request. A recent report highlighted the extent of which third-party app developers can access private information, prompting Google to respond with what amounts to a soothing message saying, 'There, there, everything will be okay'.

Google is not necessarily wrong, either, provided you are tech savvy enough to understand the risks associated with giving a third-party app certain permissions, and know how to take control of your privacy settings. The latter is not always straightforward—we have laid out the steps for preventing third-party apps from snooping your Gmail data, in case you are interested.

Nevertheless, Google insists that securing your data is its "top priority." The company also wants you to know that it has a vetting process in place to prevent situations like the Cambridge Analytica scandal that rocked Facebook. Specifically, Google has two key requirements that third-party apps must meet in order to ask for permission to scan Gmail messages. They include:
  • Accurately represent themselves: Apps should not misrepresent their identity and must be clear about how they are using your data. Apps cannot pose as one thing and do another, and must have clear and prominent privacy disclosures.
  • Only request relevant data: Apps should ask only for the data they need for their specific function—nothing more—and be clear about how they are using it.
Google says it puts third-party apps requesting permission to access Gmail through a multi-step review process, including automated and manual audits of the developer. It also assess the app's privacy policy and homepage to ensure it's a legitimate app.

The blog post amounts to a warm fuzzy, but ultimately it is up to Gmail users to take control of their privacy. To that end, Google says "transparency and control have always been core data privacy principles" at the company. Some would argue otherwise, though in this case, Google does present a permissions screen when installing an app. It should go without saying, but it's a good idea to read these permission windows, and be wary of apps that ask for an inordinate amount of access.

Top Image Source: Flickr via Thiago Melo