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Google Admits Third-Party Apps Scan Your Emails

More than 1 billion Gmail users can have their emails scanned by developers, company says in letter to Congress

Google says it will continue to allow third-party apps to view and share data from Gmail users, the company confirmed in a letter to U.S. senators.

“Developers may share data with third parties so long as they are transparent with the users about how they are using the data,” Susan Molinari, Google’s VP of public policy and government affairs for the Americas, said in the letter. Molinari’s message was sent in July in response to Republican lawmakers questioning the search giant’s data protection and was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Google’s admission comes a year after the company stopped scanning user emails to serve targeted ads. It also raises questions on how Google polices its third-party apps from mishandling more than 1.4 billion Gmail accounts. Molinari said Google investigates “anomalous behavior” and warns users when apps have been suspended for violating its privacy policies. Molinari added human moderators only view Gmail accounts in “very specific cases,” like investigating abuse.

Google asks its users to sign off before installing third-party features and allows them to opt-out whenever they want.

The letter comes to light at a time of increased scrutiny of Silicon Valley from Congress. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress earlier this year on his company’s massive data leak — which ultimately hit more than 85 million users, including Zuckerberg himself. Google reps, alongside peers from Apple and Amazon, will testify before the Senate Commerce Committee next Wednesday on its data protection policies.