Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Mountain View, CA, United States (4E) – Executives from Google will face tough questions from very annoyed U.S. senators on Sept. 26 over its untrammelled sharing of user data with other tech firms such as Facebook without any user permission.
Google’s parent firm, Alphabet, Inc, wrote to senators on the Commerce Committee trying to explain its “policies” concerning third-party Gmail add-ons such as those from Streak, Asana, Trello, Smartsheet, Wrike, ProsperWorks, Dialpad, RingCentral, Quickbooks Invoicing and Hire.
It did not, however, fully answer questions from senators about developers that break its email-scanning rules. Google told senators it relies on automated scans and reports from security researchers to monitor add-ons after they launch on user devices or computers. On the other hand, Google did not respond to lawmakers’ request to say how third-party add-on firms have been caught violating its policies.
The sharing of user data without user permissions by big technology platforms such as Google and Facebook and their partners is facing tough scrutiny around the world since Facebook revealed it had done little to monitor such relationships. Executives from Google, Apple, AT&T and Twitter are expected to testify at the hearing on Sept. 26.
Google told senators in its letter that it has suspended third-party apps due to “a lack of transparency to users.” It neither identified violators nor revealed when it punished theser violators.
Under its current rules, Gmail users must give their consent to activate extensions. Also called add-ons, extensions can help users send emails on a time delay, and remove unwanted mailing lists, among other functions.
Google’s policies also provide that software firms behind add-ons must inform users about how they collect and share Gmail data. There is scant data Google and other platforms supervise or even know if their policies are even being followed by add-on developers.
Media reports revealed that add-on developers didn’t make it clear to users that they could review Gmail messages and that their data could be shared with additional parties. Software experts said that auditing of apps that interact with Gmail, Facebook and other services is generally wanting.
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