It can be remembered from reports that Google apparently let app developers get access to its users’ Gmail accounts – which spells trouble in terms of privacy and data protection concerns. However, the Google Gmail debacle may explain exactly why Silicon Valley has a problem – or at least this is what critics say.
With the recent news that Google has actually let some developers get access to your Gmail accounts having rocked the current data privacy and protection debate, it’s perhaps this very issue that makes Silicon Valley ripe with its own set of problems. When developers blame clients and customers for “not knowing” about what data collection really is, where do we draw the line when it comes to responsible consumerism?
This all started when news broke out that Google was actually letting app developers using Gmail to be able to read and scan what’s on your email. What perhaps sparked the eternal debate on the matter was when developers gave their usual excuse on the matter: that this is, in the end, what you signed up for.
This is pretty much the same excuse given by app developers to privacy enthusiasts and supporters that have qualms with things such as Facebook sharing data with developers from third-party applications. Too bad that it’s located in their respective privacy policies. Twitter makes sure your activity in different websites are tracked because that’s in their data policy.
Advocates for data protection and privacy have been trying their best to push back against this way of the industry functioning for years. For instance, Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Marc Rotenberg said Facebook and Google need to step up and be responsible for how developers use the data of their consumers.
Rotenberg, EPIC’s director, said it’s not efficient, reasonable, and even practical to expect consumers to be aware how third-party companies will be seeing and using the various amounts of data they’ll be giving them. Google and Facebook should bear responsibility when there are instances of misuse happening to the data of their consumers.
In some instances, users do have the opportunity of opting out of the services itself, or even just out of data sharing. Regardless, the feeling of privacy being violated can’t be avoided. And now the reaction of consumers are making companies have a hard time facing lawsuits and lawmakers as the steady approach of data policy regulation now have them saying they’ve been “telling us this” all along.
Fatemeh Khatibloo from Forrester said companies in the tech industry have the responsibility to make it clear to users just what the trade off is when they receive free services. Khatibloo said companies should at least say something along the lines of, “This service is for free since we use your data in these ways.”
Unfortunately, the damage has been done – and is being continued. “Hundreds” of software developers can actually use their software to check your Gmail inbox via third-party applications – and when the fact that Gmail actually has over a billion active users, then that’s a huge data dump right there. Sometimes, even employees from these development companies have access to Gmail accounts of their many users.
For instance, Return Path, a marketing company with free email organization features, let their workers read emails of more than 8,000 users just in 2016 to make sure the software is properly developed. Edison Software, another free application about email management, also let its employees get access to thousands of messages in Gmail to help train its new Smart Reply feature.
While Edison Software and Return Path did stop the behavior, both of them did defend their actions by saying there’s a need for humans to be able to access such data in order to improve their software properly. In fact, Return Path said that before artificial intelligence could even function properly, there needs to be guidance in the form of human intelligence.
While giving developers access to user data might just be included in the terms of service of various applications – regardless if they’re from a tech giant or a startup – a lot of people don’t realize just exactly what this entails.
For instance, Google does examine all applications it allows to request data from users through Gmail. Suzanne Frey of Google’s security, trust, and privacy did encourage users to read through privacy policies carefully before letting non-Google applications have access to their data. They can access these via the security check-up on their respective Google Accounts.
Google also said in 2017 that it would stop scanning the emails of users to help marketers use ads to target their respective markets. But ever since then, data privacy concerns regarding third-party application developers have started to become a hot-topic in a global scale.
For instance, Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal has skyrocketed Facebook to scrutiny when the tech giant admitted the firm had improperly accessed the information of more than 87-million users of Facebook.
Meanwhile, Khatibloo said the Gmail controversy has affected not just Gmail users, but everyone involved in applications involved with the Gmail-affiliated third-party app. For instance, if one emails someone who used Edison or Return Path, both of those companies’ employees may also be able to read from the non-user.
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