Google

Google’s GMail is at the center of a flap over third party access to user information.

Google has become indispensable for many users, not just as the dominant search engine, but also for such free products as Google Docs and GMail.

But there are dangers inherent in relying on Alphabet’s largest subsidiary for organizing your online life and business, as a Wall Street Journal article published last week shows. According to the article, Google allows outsiders to scan the inboxes of users who signed up for email-based products.

According to the Journal:

Letting employees read user emails has become “common practice” for companies that collect this type of data, says Thede Loder, the former chief technology officer at eDataSource Inc… He says engineers at eDataSource occasionally reviewed emails when building and improving software algorithms.

“Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret,” says Mr. Loder. “It’s kind of reality.”

Google responded to the Journal article with a blog post from Suzanne Frey, Director of Security, Trust, & Privacy, Google Cloud, spelling out the ways in which the search and advertising giant protects users’ data.

In the post, Frey states that it’s not so simple for companies to snoop on your inbox. You have to grant permission to a third party, and that third party has to pass strict background tests, before they can get access to your email. Frey writes:

Transparency and control have always been core data privacy principles, and we’re constantly working to ensure these principles are reflected in our products.

Before a non-Google app is able to access your data, we show a permissions screen that clearly shows the types of data the app can access and how it can use that data.

Despite Frey’s assurances, the flap over GMail points to one of the major conundrums of the Internet age. How much privacy are we willing to give up for the great tools companies such as Google provide?