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Google explains Gmail privacy after controversy

"To be absolutely clear: no one at Google reads your Gmail."

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Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. 
Claudia Cruz/CNET

Google responded Tuesday to a backlash surrounding Gmail, after it was reported that employees at third-party apps could read people's emails. 

In a blog post, Google outlined how it works with outside software developers. The search giant also said it vets third-party apps to make sure they "only request relevant data" and "accurately represent themselves."

The scrutiny stemmed from a report earlier this week from the Wall Street Journal that "hundreds" of outside software makers could scan your inbox through third-party Gmail apps. (Gmail has more than 1 billion monthly active users.) In some cases, developers' employees had access to thousands of Gmail users' emails.

One developer, Return Path, a marketing company that offers free email organization tools, let its workers read about 8,000 user emails two years ago to help develop the company's software. Another free app, called Edison Software, which helps users manage their email, let its employees read thousands of Gmail messages to train the "Smart Reply" feature in its app, the Journal reported.

Google on Tuesday also clarified how the company itself uses the data. The search giant said last year it would stop scanning user emails for data that helps marketers target ads. 

"The practice of automatic processing has caused some to speculate mistakenly that Google 'reads' your emails," the blog post says. "To be absolutely clear: no one at Google reads your Gmail, except in very specific cases where you ask us to and give consent, or where we need to for security purposes, such as investigating a bug or abuse."

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