Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by Lance D Johnson
After promising they would no longer spy on your emails for advertisement purposes, Google Inc. recently admitted to lawmakers that they continue to allow third party companies to scan and share data from private Gmail accounts. According to the Wall Street Journal, a top Google official wrote to the U.S. Senate, confessing that Google still allows app developers and data companies’ unprecedented access to Gmail accounts. Millions of Gmail users are being are having their privacy violated, as app developers scan their emails, view private details, and use the data for target marketing.
Every time an Android user uses an app on their phone, they are forced to give up the privacy of their own Gmail account. Google is allowing mobile phone apps to scan all your emails to pickup keywords, private messages, addresses, times stamps, and intimate details. All this private information can be compiled, analyzed, and used to build a psychological profile on users for advertising purposes.
Google manages to disregard user privacy and get away with it because they hide behind the apps’ coercive consent form, which asks Android users if they are willing to let the app breach their privacy. These coercive consent forms (that pop up before an app can be used) do not fully disclose whether a user’s private data can be analyzed by computers, humans, or both. These “consent forms” pop up and block access to the app unless the user agrees that the application can “read, send, delete, and manage your email.” The form also asks if you grant it permission to manage “your contacts and calendars.”
Google defends their privacy breach by adhering to a vetting process with app companies. Google “vets” the app companies by merely confirming their identity and checking to see if the company requests data that is in line with the company’s goals. For example, email apps get exclusive access to users’ Gmail accounts because the app’s focus is on email processing. Not every app gets approved to access users’ Gmail data, but Google won’t disclose which companies get exclusive access. Peculiarly, apps such as Salesforce and Microsoft Office enjoy unprecedented access to users’ Gmail accounts.
Google employees also enjoy access to user’s emails in “very specific cases” when users give consent or for “security purposes.” After speaking with some of the companies, The WSJ found that the companies use human engineers to view hundreds to thousands of emails so they can train machine algorithms to process the data. Return Path and Edison Software are two app developers that openly state they monitor emails for this purpose.
As experienced in the Cambridge Analytica data sharing fiasco, there are times when user data is used for nefarious purposes. This is why protecting privacy is important. When tech companies have the power to collect your most intimate messages and analyze the information using algorithms, they gain power over people’s lives and are able to exploit people through targeted advertisement for political and business gain. Even more nefarious, private data can be analyzed to frame people, scheme, and manipulate. Phishing attacks can use this same permission request system on Android to subvert Google’s security clearances and steal data for nefarious purposes. This is already happening.
Not unrelated, Google is currently working with China to develop and Android app that censors out specific searches, news, and websites that the Chinese government has already banned through China’s great firewall. As Google collects private details on Gmail users, how will that information be used to engineer more of the same thought control platforms to manipulate people around the globe and make populations compliant to authority?
Stay up-to-date on the implications of big tech’s privacy breaches at PrivacyWatch.News.