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Google's Gmail privacy policy has Congress asking questions

For once, somebody actually wants to read the privacy policy.

Senators want answers on Google's privacy policy for Gmail. 

A letter demanding answers on privacy just landed in Gmail's inbox.

Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation sent a letter to Alphabet's CEO Larry Page on Tuesday, asking questions about how Google and Gmail protect users' privacy. The request comes a week after privacy concerns surfaced over Gmail allowing third-party developers to read emails

Google, which is part of Alphabet, explained that it allows app makers to request user data to properly function. In one case, the marketing data firm Return Path was able to read about 8,000 emails from Gmail users. The tech giant noted that it properly vets all apps with that escalated privilege, and that users agree to handing over this data in their user agreements.  

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

While millions of people may be agreeing to Gmail's privacy policy, the letter pointed out that many people aren't aware of all the personal data they're giving up. 

"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," read the letter, which was signed by Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, and Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas. 

The committee doesn't consider the issues with Gmail as a data abuse case, like what it called Facebook's issues with Cambridge Analytica. But it did raise concerns with Google's "lack of oversight" for protecting Gmail data.

The senators asked Page questions like how Google ensures developers aren't abusing user data and how it reviews apps to make sure they aren't mishandling any personal information. The committee also wants to know if Google has ever suspended an app for abusing data and what safeguards it has in place to make sure it doesn't happen. 

The senators expect answers from Google by July 24. 

You can read the whole letter here:

First published July 11 at 7:13 a.m. PT.
Update at 7:39 a.m. PT:
 Adds a response from Google. 

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.

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