Third-party app developers could be reading your Gmail

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A report from the Wall Street Journal has shed light on the fact that app and software developers can access a users' Gmail account, with the ability to read emails, and that the practice is a common one across email providers. The popular email service, which has more than one billion users around the world, gave developers outside the company access to inboxes.

Both companies told the WSJ that the practice is covered under their user agreements, and that its employees have strict rules about what they can and can't do with the emails they read.

The Journal reports that users signing up for certain email-based services using their Gmail account are agreeing to terms and conditions which allow the developers of the service in question to read their emails. Some allow people to write emails in special fonts, or to make it easier to find images to send to others, while others make it easier for people to organise their emails into folders.

The feature was finally dropped a year ago, in a move welcomed by privacy advocates, but it turns out employees of third-party app developers may well have been reading your private messages.

The Wall Street Journal, which was the first to point this out, called it "tech's dirty secret" that has been kept under wraps for a long time.

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The opt-in notification users receive.

Although Return Path declined to comment on details of the incident, it did say it sometimes lets employees see emails when fixing problems with its algorithms. A Microsoft spokesperson said developers were not allowed to access customer data without consent. "We have since stopped this practice and expunged all such data in order to stay consistent with our company's commitment to achieving the highest standards possible for ensuring privacy".

Hundreds of app developers electronically "scan" inboxes of the people who signed up for some of these programs, and in some cases employees do the reading, the paper reported.

The other is Edison Software, an email management app.

For those who might be concerned about this discovery, you can go to your Google Account's main page, head to the Sign-in & Security section and select "Apps with account access".

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