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File this one away under “watch your permissions.”  It’s recently come to light that an unknown number of third party apps have access to read emails sitting in your Gmail account.

While the practice is not new, things like this are coming under increased scrutiny in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica incident.

Here are the important details to bear in mind:

  • Apps that can read your email DO require explicit user permissions. You have to agree to allow these apps access to your Gmail account.
  • Once you do allow access, you’re giving both humans and computers access to not only read your messages but create new folders and even send emails out using your account. These details are generally buried in the fine print, and most users don’t realize exactly what they’re allowing when they accept.
  • Google has not made exact figures known, so it’s unclear exactly how many apps on the Play Store currently have this permission, nor is it known how many apps were denied in Google’s vetting process.
  • Currently, there are no known instances of a third party abusing Gmail permissions and doing anything inappropriate with the data they’re being given access to.
  • It’s not just Google. Most major free email providers have similar arrangements.
  • You can check your permissions via your smartphone and revoke access to any app that looks suspicious, or that you’re not comfortable giving that level of permission to. The downside, of course, is that revoking permissions will probably cause the app to stop working.

As ever, ensuring your privacy requires a proactive approach.  It’s foolish to assume that a company (any company) will be as careful with your privacy as you would be personally.  Be aware and stay vigilant.  At the end of the day, that’s the best way to minimize intrusions to your privacy.