Google has confirmed it allows some external software developers to read and analyse the inboxes of Gmail users, following scrutiny about privacy on the platform.
External apps can integrate with Gmail so customers have options around how they use their email, director of security at Google Cloud Suzanne Frey said in a blog post.
Before an app is able to access your data, she wrote, the company always shows a "permissions screen" that details the data the app can access.
In 2017, Google announced it would no longer scan Gmail to personalise advertisements.
"To be absolutely clear: no-one at Google reads your Gmail," Ms Frey said.
The furore continues an ongoing theme in Silicon Valley: the security risks posed by third-party apps attached to popular web platforms.
Most recently, the Cambridge Analytica scandal got Facebook into trouble after an external app used a personality quiz to collect user data.
Who is reading your email?
Google's response comes after a report in the Wall Street Journal claimed Google allowed apps including shopping price comparison and travel itinerary platforms to "read" emails using automated tools.
According to the outlet, Google does little to police the activities of these developers who use computers and employees, in some cases, to read their users' emails.
It detailed how companies such as Return Path and Edison Software review Gmail users' emails to help them train their company's software and build new email features for marketing and other purposes.
Former chief technology officer at eDataSource Inc Thede Loder told the newspaper it was "common practice" for companies that collect this type of email data to let employees read user emails.
He said eDataSource employees had reviewed emails when building and improving software algorithms.
"Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret," Mr Loder told the Wall Street Journal. "It's kind of reality."
Google's statement claimed a rigorous and transparent review process protected its email customers.
"Before a published, non-Google app can access your Gmail messages, it goes through a multi-step review process," Ms Frey wrote.
The Wall Street Journal does not allege misuse of data by Google or the apps mentioned.
How to check your apps
Google allows you to check which apps are connected to your account.
If you want to take a look, navigate to "Google Account", which should be in the top-right section of your Gmail screen on desktop.
Once in your account, you can find the "Apps with account access" button under the sign-in and security section.
On this page, you can see which apps have access to your account, as well as apps and sites where you use your Google password to log in.
Click "Manage Apps", and you will see Google breaks apps into three categories:
- Third-party apps with account access
- Those you use your Google password to log in
- Google apps that you have installed.
Take a close look at the third-party apps, and what information they collect — some may access your Google contacts, while others might access Google Drive.
If you click on any of these apps, a dropdown box will offer more detail about the type of data it can collect.
Click "remove access" to get rid of any you don't like the look of, or don't use regularly.
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