Google's system allows or disallows access to the email data only; the company makes no distinction between algorithms that read emails, for instance to provide functionality, and humans who read it. A Microsoft spokesperson said developers were not allowed to access customer data without consent.
Many software developers also said they go through inboxes to improve the user experience. "Just like Facebook, Google bears responsibility for the misuse of personal data by app developers".
Neither of these two companies sought explicit permission from the users to read their emails but say that it is covered under their user agreements.
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The Journal highlights two companies that it says engages in this practice.
Those of you particularly concerned about the privacy cost of using what is arguably the most popular email provider in the world may check all the third-party applications that have access to your Gmail account right here.
Fatemeh Khatibloo, and analyst at Forrester, said tech companies need to make clear to users what the tradeoff is for receiving services for free.
Why would an app developer allow humans to read your emails?
"As anyone who knows anything about software knows, humans program software - artificial intelligence comes directly from human intelligence", Return Path founder Matt Blumberg wrote, adding that the company takes "great care to limit who has access to the data, supervise all access to the data, deploying a Virtual Safety Room, where data can not leave this VSR and all data is destroyed after the work is completed".
Google didn't respond to a request for comment.