Top Senate Republicans question Google over Gmail data practices

Top Senate Republicans question Google over Gmail data practices
© Greg Nash

A trio of top Senate Republicans are demanding answers from Google’s parent company after The Wall Street Journal reported that app developers have been abusing their access to users’ Gmail accounts.

GOP Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Fight looms over national privacy law Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches MORE (S.D.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Trump cancels Mississippi rally due to hurricane Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (Miss.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data McConnell: Sessions should stay as attorney general Tougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans MORE (Kan.) sent a letter to Alphabet CEO and Google co-founder Larry Page on Tuesday with a list of questions about the company’s data management.

“While we recognize that third party email apps need access to Gmail data to provide various services, and that users consent to much of this access, the full scope of the use of email content and the ease with which developer employees may be able to read personal emails are likely not well understood by most consumers,” they wrote.

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“Furthermore, though no allegations of misuse of personal email data akin to the Cambridge Analytica case have surfaced, the reported lack of oversight from Google to ensure that Gmail data is properly safeguarded is cause for concern.”

According to the Journal story from last week, employees at one firm read 8,000 unredacted emails from users to help build their program.

The senators wrote that after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the political consulting firm improperly obtained 87 million Facebook users’ data, the Commerce panel is growing concerned with internet companies’ practices.

Their letter included a list of questions about Google’s data policies for app developers and third parties, as well as protections it had in place against abuse from its own employees.

“Does Google allow its own employees to access the content of Gmail users’ personal emails?” the letter reads. “If so, what safeguards does Google have in place to ensure that personal email content is not misused or shared more broadly?”

The Republicans asked Google to respond by July 24.

"Ensuring the privacy and security of our users' data is of the utmost importance," a Google spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday. "We look forward to answering the Committee's questions."

Updated: 5:45 p.m.