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 ThuneGOP senators divided over approach to election security McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE (S.D.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach Senators call on McConnell to bring net neutrality rules to a vote MORE (Miss.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale 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.