Senate Republicans question app developers’ gmail access

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(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc. is facing another day of demands from top Republican lawmakers to explain reports that hundreds of outside app developers had access to customers’ Gmail inboxes.

The chairmen of the Senate Commerce Committee and two of its subcommittees asked Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page in a letter Tuesday what privacy and data protection policies developers must follow when requesting access from Alphabet’s Google. They also asked whether Google is aware of developers sharing user data.

The letter follows queries from four House chairmen Monday on the reports and related privacy topics to Page and Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the access to Gmail users’ messages afforded to outside developers and their employees, which was said to come despite the company’s moves to limit access internally.

"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 email are likely not well understood by most consumers," says the letter from Senators John Thune of South Dakota, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Thune is chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversees technology and consumer issues.

The lawmakers drew a parallel to the case of Cambridge Analytica, a political firm that obtained access to the data of up to 87 million Facebook Inc. users without their consent via an outside app developer.

The fallout from Cambridge Analytica has increased pressure on social media companies over privacy and led to testimony in April before the committee, and others, by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Google said in a July 3 blog post that before outside apps get access to messages, they go through “a multi-step review process that includes automated and manual review of the developer," including "testing to ensure the app works as it says it does."

The company said in a statement on the senators’ letter that it looks "forward to answering the committee’s questions."

"Protecting our users’ privacy and securing their information is of the utmost importance to Google," according to the statement.

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