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 ThuneTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate War of words at the White House MORE (S.D.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (Miss.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell signaling Trump trial to be quick, if it happens Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Furor over White House readout of Ukraine call | Dems seize on memo in impeachment push | Senate votes to end Trump emergency | Congress gets briefing on Iran Senate again votes to end Trump emergency declaration on border wall 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.