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Email privacy: how app developers are reading your email

Newsflash: if you have a Gmail account, your emails are most likely at the mercy of multiple app developers. This kind of privacy news should no longer come as a surprise to anyone, but it’s certainly worth talking about.

Until last year, Google was scanning emails in order to better target its adverts at you. Not cool, Google. Since then, the big G has promised that it no longer indulges in these practices. What it does still do, however, is allow third-party apps access to your entire inbox – if they ask you nicely.

This isn’t a completely unfair stance from Google; the only apps who can scan your inbox are the ones that explicitly asked to and got a “yes” back from you, the user. However, these requests are often hidden in lengthy terms of service agreements and scarcely read in full. Up-front clarity is not the priority of sneaky devs who want your data.

For the most part, apps that get access to your inbox are those that offer services that tie in with your emails in some way. Tools including price comparisons and itinerary planners often ask for access to view your emails, and in fairness, plenty of apps have a genuine need to see your mail in order to offer a useful service.

Most of them never do more than algorithmically scan your emails to detect information useful to the app, but there are some nefarious apps out there that take all they can get once you allow access. One company was found hiring human employees to read through random people’s private correspondence in order to train marketing algorithms. Just make sure you’re careful to only allow this kind of access to apps and developers you feel can be trusted.

If you have a Gmail account, you can check which third-party services you’ve allowed access to is to from Here you’ll see a list of every app that has access, and exactly what level of access they have. You can then revoke permission from anyone you don’t trust or no longer use.

Bear in mind that it’s not just Google that allows this kind of behavior: if you have an email account with Yahoo or Microsoft the exact same practices apply, and you can find similar permission settings from their websites too.