A threat came out last week that third-party apps can actually read millions of gmail accounts. Today, Congress is demanding Google to answer a variety of privacy-related questions following the scandal.
The Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent notice to both Apple and Alphabet today that asked questions regarding privacy issues. The most targeted questions were aimed at Alphabet’s CEO, Larry Page, regarding last week’s report in The Wall Street Journal also extended to issues like audio collection and location tracking.
Last year Google has promised to stop scanning users emails. But still continued with allowing third-Party apps. These third-parties were able to look in after users allowed them access by checking off on a significantly vague approval box. “Google still permitted third parties to access the contents of users’ emails, including message text, email signatures, and receipt data, to personalize content,” the letter said. “In the context of free services offered by third parties, these practices raise questions about how representations made by a platform are carried out in practice.”
“Recent reports have also suggested that smartphone devices can, and in some instances, do, collect ‘non-triggered’ audio data from users’ conversations near a smartphone in order to hear a ‘trigger’ phrase, such as ‘okay Google’ or ‘hey Siri.’ It has also been suggested that third party applications have access to and use this ‘non-triggered’ data without disclosure to users.”
After the Facebook’s data scandal, Cook proved himself as a champion for user privacy. Cook told CNNMoney last month that Apple believes “privacy is a fundamental human right”. “The privacy thing has gotten totally out of control,” he said. “I think most people are not aware of who is tracking them, how much they’re being tracked and sort of the large amounts of detailed data that are out there about them.”
But Google, with an ad-based business model similar to Facebook’s, faced more privacy scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Google lets outside developers scan the inboxes of Gmail users. In a blog post, Google didn’t dispute the practice but said that it vets the developers and allows users to control the access developers have.
In the letter Monday, lawmakers asked Google to explain how many developers “are permitted to access a user’s email contents with or without consent on Gmail.” Apple and Google have until July 23 to respond.